An Unassuming Gentleman

Welcome to An Unassuming Gentleman, my free short story for Valentine’s Day 2022. For this story, I’ve gone back to the first weeks of 1809 when Sir John Moore died on the field of Corunna and his army returned to England suffering from sickness, exhaustion and starvation after an appalling retreat over the mountains in winter.

As it’s Valentine’s Day, this story is not about that retreat, it’s about one of the officers who took part in it. Gervase Clevedon has been part of the Peninsular War Saga from the first, one of Paul van Daan’s inner circle, moving in and out of the action regularly. Yet very little has been said about his personal life. We know he is the younger son of an Earl, with a difficult relationship with his elder brother but the books have been silent on the subject of his marital status.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s armyTo set this story in context of the books, it would slot in part way through An Unconventional Officer. Paul van Daan has returned from his memorable time in Yorkshire and sailed with Wellesley to fight at the battles of Rolica and Vimeiro. After the unpopular convention of Cintra, the three commanders were summoned back to London to face an inquiry and the army marched into Spain under Sir John Moore. The exception was a few companies left behind in Lisbon under Major Paul van Daan, many of whom were suffering, like Paul’s wife, from camp fever. After Moore’s disastrous campaign, which ended with his death at Corunna, the army returned to England for a few months to recover before going back to Portugal under Wellesley. Captain Gervase Clevedon was with them.

I wanted to make a brief mention of my heroine’s name. I’m very fond of the name Heather, and I’ve been dying to use it, in honour of my editor but I wasn’t sure if it was used as a girls’ name during this era. A check of the incredibly useful Ancestry.com told me there was no problem with it.

As I know my readers love to work out links to characters in other books, I’ve managed to work in links to both my standalone early novels in this story. Readers of A Respectable Woman may like to know that Gervase Clevedon is the uncle of Kit Clevedon who is the hero of that book. Meanwhile Heather MacLeod’s brother is Lord Crawleigh, a Scottish title going back to the sixteenth century where the second Baron Crawleigh defended his lands against the invasion of the Earl of Hertford in A Marcher Lord. 

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers. This one is unashamedly romantic. I hope you enjoy it, and it’s free, so please share as much as you like.

An Unassuming Gentleman.

 

It rained on the evening of Lady Sefton’s ball and a canopy had been set up across the street, to shelter the revellers during the short walk from the carriage steps to the house. Mrs Heather MacLeod, who had not particularly wanted to attend the ball, found herself wondering how much it had cost to effectively close off part of the square, so that her Ladyship’s guests might keep their feet dry.

Heather had been on a routine visit to London when she found herself ambushed by her sister-in-law. Lady Crawleigh had invited her down from her home in Scotland for a few weeks, with the promise of the theatre, the opera, some concerts and a new exhibition at the Royal Academy. Taking part in the balls and receptions of the London Season was not part of the plan and Heather was infuriated when Lady Crawleigh presented her with a pile of invitations on which her name was included.

“You may take those away, Fiona, for I shall not be attending any of them. I didn’t come here to go to parties, I cannot think what possessed you.”

“I have already replied on your behalf, Heather, so it will seem very rag-mannered if you don’t turn up,” Fiona said cheerfully. “You could of course write to the hostesses excusing yourself. I’ll leave them on the mantlepiece in case you wish to do so.”

“I? It was not I who accepted in the first place.”

“They don’t know that.”

“Fiona, how dare you? You know how much I dislike this kind of thing. I shall be bored witless. Besides, I don’t have anything suitable to wear since I never go to balls or receptions since Alex died and you promised me culture.”

“You shall have all the culture you desire, my love, providing you come out of your self-imposed seclusion and join the rest of the world for a few months. It won’t hurt you at all. I’ve made an appointment with my dressmaker. You are quite right, your gowns are looking dated. And…”

“I don’t want this.”

“You need this,” Fiona said with sudden quiet ferocity. “You’ve been hiding away in Comrie Castle for three years now and it is enough. Charles and I both agree on this. It isn’t good for you.”

“Charles is a traitor and I disown him as my brother.”

“Charles loves you. Alex was his friend he knows how much you miss him. But you’re only twenty-eight, Heather, you’re too young to wear widows’ weeds for the rest of your life.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Fiona, I stopped wearing mourning two years ago.”

“I was speaking metaphorically. And how would I know what you’ve been wearing? I never see you.”

“Nonsense, I’ve stayed with you every summer.”

“And refuse to see anybody else. It’s not good for you, Heather.”

“I don’t want anybody else.”

“Well this year you will have to put up with it. I mean it, Heather. Not one single concert or play will I attend with you unless you agree to accompany me to these parties. Your word on it.”

Heather glared at her. “This is blackmail and you will regret it. You may force me to attend, but you cannot make me enjoy it.”

“You sound like a five-year-old, dearest sister-in-law. Well, we shall see.”

Heather’s new gowns had not arrived by the date of Lady Sefton’s ball. Fiona had offered to lend her something, but Heather refused. Partly it was from sheer perversity, and partly it was because Fiona was six inches taller than her, with a fuller figure, and Heather suspected that even when altered, the gown would look cobbled together. She selected the best of her ballgowns, a charming green silk which she had not worn since her husband had died of a summer fever three years earlier. Heather supposed that the eagle-eyed ladies of fashion would be able to detect that the gown was out of date but she decided she did not care. She allowed Fiona’s maid to arrange her hair in the latest style, purchased new slippers and gloves and accepted a very pretty painted fan as a gift from her brother with a grim smile. The fan would be useful since Lady Sefton’s rooms were insufferably hot.

Heather was not new to London society and recognised enough people to make her feel at ease despite her long absence. Lord Crawleigh and his wife kept a house in town which they used during the Parliamentary season and were very much at home in government and diplomatic circles. Several women who had made their debut at the same time as Heather, and were now married, stopped to speak to her. She made polite conversation, accepted their congratulations at her re-emergence into society and tried not to grit her teeth too obviously.

Heather met with nothing but kindness and within an hour, she realised she was beginning to thaw. She was not ready to admit it to her interfering relatives, but she was quite enjoying renewing old acquaintances and catching up on the gossip. The music was infectious, and Heather stood beside her brother watching a cotillion and realised her feet were tapping. She remembered a little sadly how much she had enjoyed dancing with Alex during the first heady days of their courtship. She watched this year’s debutantes, their faces bright and eager and full of hope for the future and wondered if any of them was experiencing the breathless happiness of falling in love that she remembered so well.

Heather’s drifting thoughts were interrupted by a loud laugh. She glanced around and saw that it came from a group of men who, like her, were watching the dancing. At their centre was a tall, well-built individual who was probably in his thirties. He was expensively dressed, with his hair carefully styled and he had an over-loud voice which made everything he said easily audible to those around him.

“What do you say then, Alverstone? Who is to be this Season’s Incomparable? Miss Hibbert? Lady Caroline Forster?”

“Not at all,” the big man said. “The Hibbert is too tall and the Forster has crooked teeth. The Middleton girl is pretty, but her father’s got money troubles, or so I’ve heard. No, the girl for me is the little Flood heiress. Going to speak to her father as a matter of fact. It’s time I got my house in order now that I’ve come into the title. Nice little thing, good manners, very good Ton and a lovely figure. No reason to kick her out of bed on a cold night.”

There was more laughter. “You’d better watch it, old man, she’s over there dancing with Evesham, and he looks very pleased about it.”

“I don’t need to dance with her, Sheldon. I’ve got the title and the fortune. All I need is for her father to agree, and he will, believe me.”

Heather could feel her lip curling in distaste. She began to turn away but realised that the unpleasant Lord Alverstone had noticed her scrutiny and possibly her expression. He was staring at her, running his eyes over her in a way that made Heather’s skin crawl. Deliberately she turned towards her brother, presenting the other man with a view of her back.

“Who’s that with Crawleigh, Sheldon?” Alverstone asked loudly.

“I believe it’s his sister, Mrs MacLeod. I vaguely remember her from her debut, it was years ago. I think she’s widowed now.”

“Ha! Well her late husband did himself a favour if you ask me. Fancy being leg-shackled to a nondescript dwarf wearing last season’s gown. Couldn’t she be bothered to tidy herself up to enter polite society again?”

The words were loud enough to be heard by everybody in the vicinity. Heather was furious to feel herself blushing scarlet. She felt her brother stiffen in anger beside her and heard a murmur of comment, and one or two hastily suppressed sniggers.

“Heather, do you want me to…”

“No, Charles, please don’t. It will only encourage him.”

Heather took a deep breath and turned to look fully at Lord Alverstone. He was looking back at her mockingly, daring her to make a scene. Heather very much wanted to slap him, but she knew that for her brother’s sake she must not.

She turned away, furious to realise that she was shaking a little, with a combination of anger and embarrassment. She should not have agreed to attend such a fashionable ball in her outmoded gown, but she had been enjoying herself and nobody else had shown any sign of caring until Alverstone had drawn it to everybody’s attention.

“Are you all right, Heather?”

“Yes. No. I need to get out of here, Charles, but I don’t want him to think that I’m running away…”

“Lord Crawleigh.”

Heather turned in surprise. The voice was very different to Alverstone’s. It was a quiet baritone which held unconscious authority. She had noticed him standing on the edge of Alverstone’s group of cronies, a man of medium height, in military dress with mid-brown hair and attractive hazel eyes. Heather had no idea who he was and wondered if he had come to apologise for his friend’s rudeness. She hoped not.

“Clevedon,” her brother said delightedly. “I didn’t realise you were here tonight. Or even that you were back in England. How are you, old boy? Were you at…I mean, I’m assuming you must have been…”

Captain Clevedon smiled slightly. “Corunna? Yes, I was there. I’ve not been all that well as you can imagine, this is my first proper attempt at being social.”

“Well, I should think so. Dreadful business. Very sorry to hear about Sir John Moore, he’ll be much missed.”

“He will.” Captain Clevedon transferred his attention to Heather. He bowed. “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure, ma’am.”

“No, of course,” Charles said quickly. “This is my sister, Clevedon, Mrs MacLeod. She married Alex MacLeod, you’ll remember him. Died three years ago, some ghastly fever epidemic. Heather, this is Captain the Honourable Gervase Clevedon, a friend from my army days. He started off in the 71st with me then transferred to the 110th.”

Heather recognised the name and was furiously aware that Captain Clevedon had indeed approached her to apologise, not for his friend but for his brother. She glared at Charles, since she could hardly glare at the hapless Clevedon, and wished he would get this over with so that she could leave with dignity and have a good cry in the carriage home.

“It is very good to meet you, Mrs MacLeod. I was wondering if you would consider dancing with me? I’ve been away from London for so long. I am hopelessly out of practice, but if you’d take pity on me I would be very grateful.”

It was worse than she had expected. Heather shot her brother an indignant look, and Charles looked back with eyes which entreated her not to make a scene. He was right, she knew. There was no way to withdraw without making it look as though she was storming out. She gave a rigid smile and placed her gloved hand in Clevedon’s.

The dancers were forming up for a country dance. Heather took her place opposite Clevedon. He shot her a reassuring smile and she forced herself to respond, wishing this were over. The orchestra struck up the opening bars and Clevedon held out his hand.

“If I forget the steps, just push me,” he whispered. “I’m very good at taking orders, I promise you. Good luck.”

The remark was so unexpected that Heather let out a giggle. Her partner grinned back at her as he stepped back and then forward into the opening figure of the dance. Heather took a deep breath and let him turn her neatly before passing her hand onto the opposite gentleman in the set.

It was immediately clear that if Gervase Clevedon had not danced in London for a while, he had definitely danced somewhere. Heather had not and she had to concentrate to remember the steps. The music was lively and within a minute, Heather stopped thinking about her gown or her wounded pride and was caught up in the sheer joy of dancing again after so long.

When the music ended, Captain Clevedon bowed and raised her hand to his lips. “Thank you, I enjoyed that so much. I was worried I’d run out of energy halfway through, but we carried the day.”

Heather smiled. “I almost refused to dance with you.”

“I know you did, ma’am, and I wouldn’t have blamed you. You must have been furious.”

“I thought you were going to apologise to me.”

Clevedon led her from the dance floor and neatly removed two champagne glasses from the tray of a passing waiter. “For Alverstone? I make a point of never apologising for him, or I’d never do anything else.”

Heather laughed aloud as she took the champagne. “Then why did you ask me to dance?”

“Mostly to annoy him. But also, I’d noticed you earlier because of that green silk gown. Several years ago, when I was last in London, I solicited a lady for a dance, who was wearing just that particular shade. She was a considerable heiress and a noted beauty and she turned me down very haughtily. I was hoping I might do better this time. I’m delighted to say that I did.”

Heather could not stop laughing. “I have no idea if any of that is true,” she said.

“I promise you that it is.”

“I collect you don’t get on with your brother.”

“I dislike him excessively. I hope that doesn’t shock you? Your own brother is a very good fellow. I’m deeply envious of you.”

“Doesn’t that make it difficult living with him?”

“Oh, I’m not staying at Alverstone House, ma’am, I wouldn’t dream of it when he is in residence. I have a house of my own near Ampthill in Bedfordshire. I inherited the estate from my mother’s family. And when I’m in London, I have a standing invitation to stay with the family of my commanding officer in Curzon Street. They’re very good hosts, especially just now, because none of them are there. Are you staying with Crawleigh?”

“Yes, for a few weeks. I live in Scotland, I inherited my husband’s estate and I seldom come to London. My sister-in-law has been bullying me, saying I should make more effort to be social.”

“Well I’m very glad you did,” Clevedon said. “May I take you into supper?”

“I…yes, if you wish it.”

“Will you dance with me again?”

Heather was laughing again. “Isn’t there some kind of rule which says we may only dance together twice?”

“Oh no, surely that rule only applies to debutantes.”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well can we pretend that neither of us knows any better? They won’t be surprised. You’ve been hiding in a Scottish castle for three years and I’ve been in the army, they don’t expect any better from us.”

Heather felt as though her head was spinning slightly. “Are you always like this? How did you know it was a castle?”

“No, is it? I just made that up. I must have the second sight. Dance with me again, Mrs MacLeod. I’ve just survived the worst retreat…you honestly can’t imagine. Please?”

Heather sipped the champagne. “Was it really that bad? The retreat to Corunna?”

Unexpectedly the laughing eyes were serious. “Yes,” he said. “So bad, in fact, that I’m trying not to think about it too much at the moment. I’m supposed to be convalescing.”

“By dancing.”

“It is good for both the body and the soul. Especially dancing with you. You have the prettiest eyes.”

“Captain Clevedon, are you trying to flirt with me?” Heather said in what she hoped was a repressive voice.

Clevedon looked at her for a long moment. “Do you know, I think I am,” he said cordially. “Do you think that’s a sign of recovery? Come along, they’re about to start the quadrille and I think I can remember that one.”

***

The rain had stopped when Gervase Clevedon stepped out into the cool winter air. London was not particularly sweet smelling most of the time, but the rain had washed down the streets and given them a fresh damp scent. Gervase stood for a moment, his head swimming pleasantly, and decided he was sober enough to walk home. A queue of carriages stood waiting to collect their occupants. Gervase’s hosts had informed him that he was to make use of their town carriage without hesitation, but Gervase preferred to walk although he knew perfectly well that his brother would never dream of walking the ten minutes to his home in Berkeley Square. More than ten years in the army had given Gervase considerable hardiness and he would have been embarrassed to call for the carriage for such a short distance.

Gervase had stood up with Heather MacLeod for more than the regulation two dances. If anybody had cast disapproving glances their way, he had not noticed and did not care. When he had limped off the transport from Corunna to begin his convalescence, Gervase had been so weak from starvation, exhaustion and a minor wound to his shoulder that he could not have contemplated even a short walk, let alone an evening dancing. Physically he had recovered very quickly but the emotional effects of the long agonising retreat followed by a battle he was not fit to fight were taking longer to shake off.

The retreat to Corunna had been a disaster for the British army. Only two thirds of Gervase’s battalion had marched into Spain with Sir John Moore. The rest of them remained in Lisbon, struck down by the worst epidemic of camp fever Gervase had ever seen. At the time, Gervase had thought himself lucky to have avoided it. Colonel Johnstone rallied those men fit enough to fight and joined the main army, and Gervase felt sorry for Major Paul van Daan who was both his commanding officer and his friend. Paul’s friendship with Sir Arthur Wellesley had given him a significant part to play in the victories at Rolica and Vimeiro the previous year, but this time he was left in Lisbon in command of the sick troops while Johnstone marched to potential glory. To make it worse, Paul’s wife succumbed to the sickness and Gervase knew he had spent a miserable six weeks in Lisbon fretting over her before returning to barracks in Melton Mowbray with his much-depleted companies, to receive the news of Moore’s death.

Moore’s campaign had gone wrong from the start. He had taken over command of the army when the three previous commanders had been summoned back to London to face an inquiry over the convention of Cintra, which had caused public outrage because of the lenient terms granted to the defeated French. Gervase wondered if Sir Arthur Wellesley would have done any better than Moore, given the impossible circumstances. Moore could not be asked to account for the failure of his campaign. He had been killed during the desperate battle fought on the shore at Corunna where his sickly, starving and exhausted army managed to beat back the French long enough to board the transports waiting to take them home.

Gervase had lost both his horses during the long retreat, and too many of his men. They fell beside the road, dying of sickness and hunger and cold and he could do nothing for them. He also lost control of them, unable to prevent episodes of looting and drunkenness whenever they happened upon a village or a farm where food was available. Spanish farmers and their families were murdered and women were raped. Gervase did not know if any of his men were responsible for the worst of the depredations but even the fact that they might have been left him depressed and ashamed.

Flirting with Heather MacLeod on the dance floor and across the supper table had made him happier than he had been for months and Gervase was enormously grateful. He was also intrigued. She was an attractive woman who seemed entirely without vanity. In place of it, she had ideas, and interests and laughter. She laughed more than any woman he had ever met. She also talked a lot. Gervase thought of himself as a quiet man, but Heather MacLeod was amazingly easy to talk to. He discovered, with some surprise, that they shared a lively sense of the ridiculous and her conversation was peppered with observations about their fellow revellers that kept him in a ripple of laughter all evening. He realised, as he turned into Curzon Street, that he could not wait to see her again.

It was past two o’clock as Gervase mounted the steps to Tevington House. He did not knock, unwilling to wake up the neighbours, knowing that the butler or one of the footmen would be on the watch for his return. Sure enough, the door opened after only a few moments and Gervase stepped into the hallway, which was dimly lit by a branch of candles set on a polished table. He took off his hat.

“If you think I’m taking your damned hat as well as waiting up to let you in, you’re much mistaken, Captain Clevedon.”

Gervase turned in astonishment, his face lighting up at the sight of a tall fair man in uniform who was smiling at him.

“Paul! What on earth are you doing here, acting as butler at this hour?”

“Are you drunk, Gervase? This is my house. At least it’s my father’s house.”

Gervase set his hat down on the side table, carefully avoiding the candles, and remembered to salute. Major Paul van Daan regarded him critically. “Not much more than half-sprung, I suspect. I got here very late after the journey from hell, so I had supper and thought I’d wait up for you. They said you were at Lady Sefton’s.”

“I was. It’s the first time I’ve ventured out to anything more strenuous than a supper party at White’s, but unexpectedly I enjoyed myself. I’m surprised to see you, sir, I thought you fixed in Leicestershire.”

“I am. In fact, I’m completely invisible and I’d appreciate it if you would refrain from advertising my presence in town. Wellesley wrote to me asking me to come up for a few days. I’m dining with him tomorrow. It seems we’ll be going back to Portugal with him.”

“They’ve given him the command?”

“Yes, although I don’t know how official it is yet. Are you too tired for another drink? I’ve kept the fire going in the library.”

“As long as it isn’t champagne. I have drunk enough champagne this evening. Why are you travelling incognito?”

Paul picked up the candles and led the way into the library. He set them down and went to pour wine. “Because I don’t want to see anybody,” he said frankly. “Apart from Wellesley, and of course you. I’m enjoying the life of a country layabout for a month or two, with nothing more strenuous than the ride into barracks, and I promised Rowena I wouldn’t stay long.”

“How is she, sir?”

“She seems fully recovered, but it’s going to take me a while to get over the fright she gave me.”

“And how are the men?”

“Improving. We’ve lost some, Gervase, I can’t lie to you. I can’t decide if I feel guilty or relieved that I wasn’t there.”

“Feel relieved,” Gervase said sombrely, drinking the wine. “It was pure hell, appallingly organised with a complete breakdown of discipline. We lost control of our men, Paul, and I’ve never had to say that before. It’s a miracle we got as many of them out of there as we did. You missed nothing.”

“That’s never going to happen again.”

Gervase grinned at the ferocious certainty of the other man’s tone. “Yes, sir. Now let’s talk of other things, it depresses me. I saw Wellesley tonight. He was dancing with a number of pretty women, none of whom were his wife.”

“That is no surprise at all. He has reason to celebrate. Wholly exonerated by the inquiry, a vote of thanks from Parliament, and the promise of a new command.”

Gervase gave a faint smile. “And did he deserve all of those?”

Paul grinned. “Two out of three,” he said honestly. “He signed that bloody thing along with the other two. I doubt he agreed with it, but I’m also damned sure he didn’t realise the furore it was going to cause, or he’d never have done it. Needless to say, he didn’t ask my opinion. I’m glad he got away with it though because he deserves the command and the approbation. Now let’s see what he can do with nobody holding him back. Was your brother at Lady Sefton’s tonight?”

“To my sorrow. He’s the reason I was planning to post up to Bedfordshire at the end of the week. Just being in the same room as him makes me want to punch him, I cannot think how we came to be related. He tells me he is about to make an offer of marriage to some unfortunate girl. I wish I could put a spoke in the works because he’ll treat her appallingly, but there’s nothing I can do. He’s an Earl, her parents cannot wait to hand her over.”

“Who is it?”

“Lady Clarissa Flood. She’s nineteen.”

“Dear God.”

“I know. He can’t even be bothered to woo the girl. He’ll just sign the marriage contract and start giving her orders. Thank God I’ll be back in Portugal with you and won’t have to watch it.”

“Ambitious parents create a lot of misery. When are you going to Ampthill? It’s not that far, you should come up to Southwinds for a few days. I promise not to make you run drill or skirmish training.”

Gervase laughed. “You would break that promise in two days, sir, you can’t help yourself. I’m not sure actually. I was going to go, but I may decide to stay in town for a week or two. I ran into an old friend this evening. Do you know Crawleigh? We were in the 71st together, but he sold out when he inherited the title. His wife has invited me to dine on Tuesday, and I’m joining them at the theatre on Friday.”

Paul van Daan studied him for a long silent moment, sipping his wine. Gervase drank his, saying nothing. Eventually, Paul set his glass down and got up to bring the bottle to the low table before the fire. He refilled both glasses, sat back and studied Gervase thoughtfully.

“What’s her name?” he asked.

***

It was the first time in many years that Gervase had spent any time in London during the season and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed it. As the younger son of the Earl of Alverstone, his place in society was assured but his loathing for his elder brother meant that he tended to avoid town when the new Earl was in residence.

Gervase could tell that Alverstone was baffled by his extended stay. They spoke occasionally when meeting at social events and his brother was probing, trying to discover what was keeping Gervase in London. His curiosity amused Gervase since it was clear that Alverstone had absolutely no idea of his real motives. He questioned Gervase about possible financial problems, difficulties with his Bedfordshire estate, health problems after the brutal retreat to Corunna and even asked if Gervase was considering selling his commission and returning to civilian life. Gervase gave him little information and enjoyed watching his brother’s puzzlement.

Gervase could not believe Alverstone had not noticed the object of his real interest. Lord Crawleigh and his wife were definitely aware, and they encouraged him shamelessly. Gervase wondered if they had bullied Heather into coming to London in the hope of finding her another husband, but he did not think so. Lady Crawleigh was clearly devoted to her and he suspected that Heather’s self-imposed solitude since the death of her husband had been a source of concern for some time.

It puzzled Gervase, because it was quickly clear that Heather MacLeod was not a naturally solitary person. She was awkward at times, but he thought that was lack of practice rather than a native dislike of company. Over the following weeks he spent increasing amounts of time with her, and he found her completely charming.

Heather quickly admitted to him that Lady Crawleigh had tricked her into coming to London with the promise of cultural activities. It proved an excellent opportunity for Gervase to spend time with her in settings more conducive to conversation than a ballroom. He accompanied her to the theatre and the opera, escorted her to the Royal Academy and attended several concerts, both private and public. She laughed at his willingness to accede to any of her suggestions.

“Captain Clevedon, you are far too amenable. I am tempted to see how far I can push this. There are several public lectures coming up on the subject of anatomy and the structure of the brain. I’m sure they will be interesting. Would you be willing, should I require an escort?”

Gervase surveyed her with interest. “How fascinating, ma’am. You may not know it but I have always wanted to know more about human anatomy. Should we ask Lady Crawleigh if she wishes to attend with us?”

Heather gave him a long look. “I’m not sure if I should call your bluff. Would you really endure such a trial just to prove me wrong?”

“The difficulty you have, ma’am, is that if you call my bluff and I don’t fold, you’ll have to attend the lectures yourself. Is it really worth that just to watch me squirm?”

Heather gave a peal of laughter. “You are the most exasperating man, Captain. It’s impossible to put you out of temper.”

“It can definitely be done, ma’am. You should talk to my brother.”

“Goodness, why ever would I do that?”

“I’ve no idea. Silly notion, forget I mentioned it. Will you ride with me tomorrow? Major van Daan has offered me the pick of their stable. I’m sure I can find suitable horses.”

“I would love to, but I will provide my own horse. Fiona always brings several to town during the season, because she knows she looks good on horseback and likes to show off. I can borrow one of hers.”

“Excellent. I hope the weather holds.”

They rode together through the cold weeks of February and into early March, danced at every ball and took long walks through the London parks, trailed by Heather’s uninterested maid. She told him about her husband, about the sixteenth century castle she had inherited near the village of Comrie and about the lands and people who had become her responsibility through her marriage. Gervase talked of his parents, his career in the army and of the extensive estate in Bedfordshire that he intended one day to make his home.

“Most of the family estates are entailed, of course, and went to my brother. I didn’t mind, it’s the way things are done. It’s why I joined the army when I was younger. I wanted a career of my own, to make my way in the world. I didn’t want to depend on him. My mother always understood that. She inherited the estate from a childless uncle and made it over to me as soon as I came of age. She lives there now and keeps house for me. She doesn’t get on particularly well with Alverstone either.”

“It must be a great joy to him, to be so universally loved.”

Gervase spluttered with laughter. “I think he strives to deserve it,” he said, when he could speak again. “You were able to inherit Comrie Castle unentailed, I gather.”

“Yes. There’s no title to inherit, just the lands. If we’d had a son they’d have gone to him, with me to manage them until he was older, but we never had children. I wish we had.” Heather smiled unselfconsciously. “Alex had several male cousins who were most put out when he left everything to me, but he was perfectly entitled to do so.”

“I think you had a very happy marriage, ma’am.”

“I did. I was the most fortunate of women.”

The sadness in her voice pierced Gervase’s heart. It was unworthy he knew, to envy a dead man, but sometimes he could not help it. As the weeks passed, it was becoming more and more clear to him that his feelings for Heather MacLeod went well beyond friendship, but he was by no means sure that she felt the same way. Clearly, she enjoyed his company, and Gervase suspected that to the outside world their uncomplicated friendship looked very much like courtship, but he worried that to Heather it was nothing than a pleasant way to pass her time in London. He was beginning to understand why she had locked herself away in her grey stone tower at the edge of the Highlands for so long. Heather MacLeod had been passionately devoted to her husband and Gervase was not sure she would ever be ready for another man to take his place.

It grieved Gervase, because he wanted more, and he was becoming conscious that he had very little time. He received regular letters from his regiment, informing him of arrangements for travelling to Portugal and he was torn between the usual sense of anticipation at the beginning of a new campaign and a feeling of misery that if he sailed away from Heather without at least making a push to tell her of his feelings, he would lose any chance with her. It could be several years before he returned to England, and by then she would probably have met somebody else.

His commanding officer had returned to Leicestershire, offering several wholly unsolicited pieces of advice about Gervase’s courtship before he left. Gervase was glad to see him go. His friendship with Paul van Daan was of long-standing and he generally enjoyed his commander’s lively sense of humour, but his relationship with Heather was too new and too precious to be the subject of even the most well-meaning banter. Gervase fretted pointlessly at the problem. He knew that the only possible solution was to pluck up the courage to speak to her before he had to leave, but he was discovering that it was far easier to display courage in the face of a French cavalry charge than when faced with making an offer of marriage to a young woman who might well say no. The weeks flew past, and Gervase was beginning to dread the arrival of orders to return to duty immediately, which would rob him of any chance of speaking to Heather. He needed to gather his courage in both hands and take the risk, and he needed to do it soon.

They rode out on a bright Spring morning towards Barnet, where the horse fair sprawled out over several fields. Gervase was under no illusion that he would find a suitable opportunity to propose on this day, but he was in dire need of new horses. He had several excellent hunters in his stables in Bedfordshire but none of them were suitable for the long hours and difficult conditions of campaign life.

It was many years since he had been to Barnet Fair, and he discovered that Heather had never been. She was openly delighted with the eclectic mix of market stalls, sideshows, food and drink booths and huge pens where cattle and horses were displayed for sale. The buying and selling of livestock was the real purpose of the fair and farmers and landowners rubbed shoulders with private customers looking to buy a riding hack or a pair of carriage horses.

It was crowded and noisy. Gervase had attended such fairs in several countries and entertained Heather with stories of India as they stabled their borrowed horses in a temporary horse pen and left them under the watchful eye of one of the Van Daan’s grooms. They made their way through the throng to the horse pens, accompanied by Southworth, Gervase’s own groom. Southworth had accompanied Gervase on campaign for ten years and knew exactly what he was looking for in an officer’s mount.

Gervase had wondered if Heather would be bored by the laborious process of selecting and purchasing horses, but she seemed to enjoy herself. She was a good horsewoman and was knowledgeable enough to make intelligent comments about the various animals. They wandered through the pens, stopping every now and then to examine a promising mount and Gervase had to force himself to pay attention to the horses, since he actually needed to buy some, instead of watching Heather.

It was afternoon by the time he had made his selection and agreed the arrangements for delivering the horses. They spent the rest of the day at the fair, wandering through the market stalls, eating hot pasties in a crowded food tent and drinking cider at a rickety table overlooking the huge field where a racetrack had been laid out. In addition to its commercial purposes, Barnet Fair was famous for its sports, and both horse racing and boxing matches attracted visitors, not only from London, but also from the surrounding counties.

Heather disclaimed any interest in watching the races and the entirely masculine crowd of sportsmen surrounding the boxing ring was clearly unsuitable for a lady. The groom who had looked after their horses told them that the Prince of Wales had arrived with a party of friends for the boxing and was expected to remain for the races. It seemed like an excellent time to leave before the light began to fade and the fair grew even more rowdy.

Heather was unusually quiet on the ride back into town, but it was a comfortable silence. Gervase rode beside her, pleasantly tired after a very productive day, and decided that he was going to speak to her as soon as possible. If he had completely misread her feelings, it was better to know it. Today had clarified his own feelings and he no longer had any doubts.

Gervase was at the breakfast table two days later when the note was delivered. He did not recognise the hand, and he opened it and began to read, his teacup halfway to his mouth. After the first few lines he put the cup down and pushed his plate away, his appetite gone. It was from Heather MacLeod, a pleasant note informing him that she had made the decision to return home to Scotland almost immediately.

Gervase read the letter again. There was no mistaking the warm, friendly tone of her farewell. She thanked him for his friendship and for the many occasions when he had escorted her and expressed her hope that they would meet again at some future date. Gervase, depressed, tried to imagine how that might come about and could not. When they had parted after their day at the fair, she had given no hint of any intention to go home so soon. He found himself running over their conversations in his head, wondering if he had said or done something to upset her. He did not think he had. Foolish to think this was about him. It was looking increasingly likely that Heather MacLeod had not considered him at all when making her decision.

The thought hurt, but at the same time it was a call to action. Gervase realised that he could not allow her to leave without at least trying to tell her how he felt about her. It would be awkward for her and painfully embarrassing for him if she rejected his proposal, but it would be far worse if he just let her walk out of his life. He was in love with her and had begun to believe that she might feel the same way about him. If he was wrong, then he needed to know it and he could not put this off any longer or he might miss his opportunity.

***

Heather had been prepared for her family to object to her sudden decision to go home, but she had not been prepared for the ferocity of the storm.

She made the announcement at breakfast, dropping it casually into a conversation about Lord Crawleigh’s lame horse and the likelihood of rain that day. Neither topic served as an effective screen. Both Crawleigh and Fiona stopped their conversation and turned to stare at Heather.

“Going home? When?”

“On Friday, I think,” Heather said lightly. “I’ll make the arrangements today. I’ll travel post.”

“Heather, you cannot. We are promised to Lord and Lady Jersey on Saturday and there is the Mortimer’s ball on Monday. You have so many engagements.”

“I have made a list,” Heather said, keeping her voice steady. “I will write to all of them with my apologies, Fiona, I am not so rag-mannered as to leave that to you.”

“It seems fairly rag-mannered to walk out on your family halfway through a visit without so much as a conversation,” Crawleigh said bluntly. Heather shot him a look.

“May I remind you, dear brother, that this is not the visit I had planned? You took control of my time without so much as a by-your-leave, as though I were a silly girl of eighteen, and I think I’ve been very patient about it. I’ve had enough now and I want to go home and get on with my life.”

“What life? Mooning about the castle and discussing cattle feed and crop rotation with the farmhands? Don’t pretend you’ve not enjoyed yourself, Heather, I’m neither blind nor stupid. Three days ago you were talking about ordering new gowns for the warmer weather. What’s got into you?”

“I have enjoyed myself and I am very grateful,” Heather said between gritted teeth. “But it is enough. I don’t belong in London. I miss home. I want to go home.”

She was horrified at the little break in her voice. Fiona heard it and motioned for the servants to leave the room, then gave Crawleigh a look.

“Don’t bully her, Charles. Heather, what has happened to upset you? Do not spin me some tale, if you please, I’ve known you for too long. You had no intention of leaving early, this is a sudden decision.”

Heather got up and walked over to the long windows which overlooked the square. “That does not mean it is the wrong decision.”

“Is this about Clevedon?” her brother demanded. “Does he know you’re about to head for the Scottish hills, dear sister? Or were you just going to leave him without a word?”

Heather felt a rush of sheer fury. She spun around. “And now we have reached the truth of it, have we not, Charles? You do not give a rush about me or my feelings or how difficult this is for me. You just want me respectably married again so that the likes of Lord Alverstone do not whisper behind their hands that your sister is a little odd.”

Crawleigh got to his feet, almost upsetting the chair in his anger. “How dare you say that to me? I’ve offered you nothing but sympathy since Alex died, he was my friend. But you…”

“And now you’ve found another one of your friends to marry me off to…”

“That’s enough!” Fiona broke in angrily. “Sit down immediately, both of you. I do not care how upset you are, you will not yell at each other across the breakfast table and make a gift of our family business to the servants. Sit down.”

Heather stood irresolute. She wanted to run to her room, probably slamming several doors on the way, but the expression on Fiona’s face made her pause. Her sister-in-law was generally very placid, but she looked furious now. After a moment, Crawleigh seated himself again. Heather stalked back to her chair and did the same.

“Have you written to Captain Clevedon, Heather?” Fiona asked.

“Yes. I sent a note to him this morning.”

“I hope it was civil,” Crawleigh growled.

“It was more than civil,” Heather snapped. “I expressed my warmest friendship and appreciation for all his kindness and hoped we should meet again one day.”

“You’ll be glad you said that, sister, if you get the news he’s been blown apart by French cannon before the end of the year,” Crawleigh said unforgivably.

Heather burst into tears. She got to her feet and ran to the door of the breakfast parlour just as the butler opened it.

“Captain Clevedon, my Lord,” Campbell said, sounding surprised. “I believe he is engaged to go for a walk with Mrs MacLeod.”

Heather had completely forgotten the arrangement. She froze for a long moment, staring into Clevedon’s astonished eyes. Clevedon looked back steadily, and Heather wondered how much of the altercation he had heard. Nobody moved or spoke.

Captain Clevedon was the first to recover. He stepped to one side, his eyes not leaving hers. “It’s all right,” he said gently. “Go on. But if you can bear to come back down, I would like to speak to you.”

Heather ran past him. She was crying too much to answer, but she was grateful for his quick understanding. It made her feel rather worse. She paused at the bottom of the wide, sweeping staircase and looked back. The Captain had just entered the parlour. Before the door closed, she heard his voice, using a tone she had never heard from him before.

“I heard every word of that, Crawleigh, and you can thank God there’s a lady present or I’d punch you so hard you’d still be unconscious at dinner. Lady Crawleigh, your servant, ma’am. Sorry to arrive so early.”

***

After ten minutes of painfully stilted conversation, Lady Crawleigh excused herself to see how her sister-in-law did. When she had gone, Gervase looked at Crawleigh. The Earl groaned.

“That expression is the reason I sold out, Clevedon. I couldn’t bear you looking at me for another week like a weevil in a tack biscuit.”

“You sold out when you inherited the title, Crawleigh. It had nothing to do with me. And just at the moment, I’d say the weevil is ahead of you for brains.”

“I’m sorry. I said I’m sorry. I lost my temper.”

“It isn’t me you should be apologising to, you bloody idiot. Of all the things to say to the poor girl, given what she’s been through.”

“Clevedon, I love my sister dearly, but you have no idea how infuriating she can be. I’m assuming you had her note.”

“Yes, it’s why I came so early. I read it twice and decided she’d forgotten that she’d promised to go for a walk with me today. I wanted to get over here before she remembered and sent me another note to cry off.”

“That’s the reason you’re a captain and I’m a member of the idle classes. You always were a planner. I’m surprised you’re not angry with her yourself. She’s been leading you a fine dance for more than two months. It was unforgiveable to turn you off with a note because she has a whim to go home all of a sudden. I’ve no idea what’s got into her. I would have sworn…”

He broke off realising what he had been about to say. Gervase grinned. “I would have sworn as well. She’s not been leading me a dance. Your sister doesn’t have it in her to behave that way. Whatever has happened to upset her, she’s not being deliberately difficult.”

“Really? I do hope you manage to marry her, Clevedon, you’re far nicer to her than I am.”

“After today’s effort, I will not argue with you.”

“Look, I’ll ring for more tea for you and then I’ll go up and tell her…”

“If you go anywhere near her, Crawleigh, I will beat you senseless, I swear it. I’ll have the tea and you can pass me the Times. I’m going to wait.”

Thirty minutes passed. Gervase read the newspaper, which contained nothing of interest at all. Crawleigh worked his way through a pile of letters. Eventually he looked up.

“How long are you going to wait?”

“Until she comes downstairs.”

“What if she stays upstairs?”

“Then I’m staying for dinner.”

Crawleigh rolled his eyes. “Is it too early for brandy, do you think?”

“Yes.” Gervase took out his watch. “Give it another hour.”

“Do I have to sit here with you?”

“You can go to the devil for all I care.”

There was a sound in the hallway and then the door opened and Heather appeared. She was dressed in a stylish full-length blue pelisse, complete with military-style epaulettes and frogging. Only the hem and lace collar of her white gown were visible, and she wore neat black half boots and a cream-coloured bonnet trimmed with feathers. Gervase had not seen the pelisse before and, as he rose and bowed, he thought how well the colour suited her fair hair and skin. He moved forward and took her hand, raising it to his lips.

“Mrs MacLeod, I’m so glad you came down. As you are dressed for walking, I’m hoping you haven’t come to tell me you’re crying off. I’m sorry I arrived so early. I wanted to speak to Crawleigh, but it was thoughtless of me.”

“Not at all, Captain. You weren’t responsible for my dramatic exit, my brother has the tact of a bear.”

Crawleigh got up. “Exit, pursued by a bear,” he said morosely. “Good day, Clevedon. Feel free to drown her in the Serpentine if the mood takes you.”

When he had gone, Gervase looked at his love. She had been crying, but had done a good job of disguising it with a little powder and seemed perfectly calm. He took her arm and they made their way through the grey early afternoon towards the gates of Hyde Park, with Heather’s maid following at a respectable distance. Gervase realised he was dry mouthed with nerves. His strategy to speak to her alone had succeeded very well, but he was not sure that he could carry the next line of her defences.

“Are you really going back to Scotland?” Gervase asked, once they were in the park and walking along a tree lined avenue. He realised that the usual easy flow of their conversation had dried up and he was struggling to know how to raise the subject.

“Yes, I think so. I’ve done as I promised and spent a season in London. I’ve ridden in the Row and attended the balls and the receptions and the routs. I’ve been entertained by the Prince of Wales and eaten the worst supper I’ve ever been offered in my life, and I’ve seen the very latest exhibition at the Royal Academy. I’ve even been to Horse Guards and seen some very pretty soldiers on parade. I’m exhausted with all the frivolity.”

“You haven’t danced at Almack’s yet,” Gervase pointed out.

Heather laughed aloud. “The underworld will freeze over before they allow me through those hallowed doors, Captain, and you know it. Besides, I’ve no wish to go.”

“The suppers are even worse than Prinny’s, and they make the gentlemen wear knee breeches.”

“Then it’s no place for a – what did the Earl call me? A nondescript dwarf in last Season’s gowns, wasn’t it?”

“My brother’s manners are as appalling as his arrogance. I am ashamed to be related to him.”

“I would be too. I like Lady Clarissa Flood, though, it will be a pity if her parents shuffle her into it. He’ll lead her a dog’s life.”

“I cannot allow myself to think about it, ma’am, since I can do nothing to prevent it.”

Heather gave him one of her grave looks, as though she was assessing his sincerity, then she gave a rather sad smile.

“I feel the same way. But it’s another good reason to be home in Scotland, so that I don’t have to watch it. I’ll miss our talks though. When do you leave for Portugal?”

“I had a letter this morning. I’ll need to leave for Southampton in about three weeks. Major van Daan has given me leave to go straight there with no need to travel up to Melton first.”

“That’s good, as you’ll have time to say goodbye to your friends in London.”

“I thought I might go back to Ampthill, to spend a week or two there and to see my mother. I think I’ve been social enough for a while.”

“Won’t you find that hard back with your regiment?”

“The regiment…oh, you mean my fellow officers? That’s different, they’re my friends.”

Heather’s smile broadened. “The way you say that makes me wish I’d had the opportunity to meet them.”

“Oh, I wish you had too. Meeting me in London like this, during the Season, will have given you very little idea of me really. This is not…these are not really my friends.”

Another awkward silence fell. Behind them, Gervase could hear the maid sniffing noisily as though she intended it to be heard. He turned to look at her and his companion giggled.

“She doesn’t like walking,” she said softly. “I wish they’d stop this nonsense about having me chaperoned every time I walk outside the house, it’s ridiculous. I’ve been married and widowed and I’ve no reputation to worry about.”

“That’s not true and you know it, ma’am. London is very censorious.”

“It can be as censorious as it likes, I’m unlikely to hear it from my crumbling pile of stone in Scotland.”

Gervase laughed. “Is that another one of my brother’s remarks?”

“No, that one was Lady Commyngton. Though to be fair, I think she only said it when it became clear to her I’d no intention of encouraging the attentions of her youngest son. He’d have been very happy to take on my crumbling pile of stone and the income my husband left me.”

“Is it really crumbling?”

“Well it’s old, and the plumbing could do with updating,” Heather admitted cheerfully. “Alexander never really cared for such things, but since he left me in better case than I expected, I had thought of doing a little work on it. But it’s a castle, Captain, not a mansion. I doubt Mr Commyngton would have wanted to live there much, and I’d never marry a man who wanted to sell my home to fund a London lifestyle.”

“I suspect your Scottish castle suits you far better than these well-tended gardens, Mrs MacLeod.”

“I suspect you’re right. Though this is pretty with the spring flowers coming up, even on such a dark day. I wonder if we should turn back before my maid develops inflammation of the lung?”

Gervase felt a sudden lurch of misery, realising that this might be the last time he saw her. He sought frantically for the right words, wishing for a more fluent tongue.

“Do you ever get leave once they get you out of England, Captain?”

The question surprised him. “It’s very unpredictable, ma’am. When the entire army has fallen apart and the campaign has collapsed into disaster, leave is very likely, as you can see from Corunna. But we try not to hope for that too often. It will depend on how successful Wellesley is. He’s the man of the hour just now, the government would far rather focus on his triumphs than on poor Moore’s failure.”

“Is he truly that good?”

“A general is only as good as his last campaign, ma’am. But my commanding officer says he’s the best general in the army.”

“Now that is high praise indeed. Do you trust Major van Daan’s opinion?”

“I trust him with my life, ma’am, so I suppose I’d have to say yes.”

“Captain Burrows described Major van Daan as a monied upstart who has bought his way to promotion over longer serving men.”

Gervase considered it for a moment. “I think he’d agree with that.”

She gave a peal of laughter. “Oh no, you’re such a disappointment, Captain. I was sure that would make you angry.”

“Captain Burrows has never set foot on a battlefield, ma’am, and I suspect if they ever try to send him abroad, his Mama will quickly pay for a transfer to a safer regiment. Preferably not the 110th because Major van Daan would end up punching him.”

She was smiling up at him as they approached the park gates. “I wish I had met your Major when he was in town.”

“If there is ever the opportunity, Mrs MacLeod, I will gladly introduce you.”

“I hope we meet again, Captain. I realise you may be away from England for a long time, but should you find yourself with a period of leave…”

Heather stopped and Gervase glanced at her and realised, to his complete astonishment, that she was blushing. He had never before seen her do so and had thought her incapable of it.

“If I ever find myself in Scotland, ma’am, I will definitely call.”

“Scotland is a long way away, Captain. I might possibly find myself in London again.”

Gervase stopped in his tracks, so abruptly that the maid, who was not looking where she was going, almost walked into him. Heather was a few steps ahead of him before she realised. She turned with a surprised expression.

“Are you all right, Captain?”

Gervase looked at the maid. He realised guiltily that she actually did not look well. Her nose was red and her eyes were sore.

“What’s your name?”

“Brown, sir.”

“Brown, you look terrible. I’ve been listening to you sneeze for the past twenty minutes. Go home immediately. Tell Lady Crawleigh that you had no choice, I ordered you home because I was worried about contagion. Mrs MacLeod and I will take another turn about the park, and then I will return her home, I swear it.”

The woman stared at him in blank surprise, then unexpectedly she seemed to understand and gave a broad smile and dropped a curtsey.

“Yes, Captain. Thank you, sir.”

Gervase dug in his pocket and produced a coin. She took it, looked at it then looked up with wide, surprised eyes.

“Thank you, sir.”

When she had gone, Gervase took a deep breath and risked a look at his companion. She was wearing exactly the expression he was expecting.

“That was extremely high-handed of you, Captain Clevedon. How did you know I wasn’t tired and ready to go home?”

“A lucky guess, ma’am. Besides, I suspect you’re used to walking a lot further than this, and over far rougher ground.”

She gave a smile. “Yes, I am. This is very tame. Very well, let’s walk over to the lake. I have taken a liking to the lake.”

“I like it myself. I’ve a small ornamental lake on my estate in Bedfordshire. It is home to the most aggressively hostile flock of geese I have ever encountered in my life. They barely tolerate my presence.”

Heather gave a gurgle of laughter. “Really? Birds can be like that. When I married Alexander, one of his cousins presented us with a pair of peacocks. I think she thought they would lend an air of gentility to the place. All they did, of course, was leave droppings all over the carriage drive and kept us awake with their shrieking. Fortunately, my sister married the following year, so we presented them to her.”

“I wonder who she passed them on to when she got tired of them?” Gervase said, much entertained. “I envision them being passed on through the family until they have toured the whole of Scotland and finally settled into honourable retirement somewhere in Berwick.”

Heather was giggling. “Don’t. Now I am going to have to ask her. I wonder if she did pass them on again. I don’t remember seeing them the last time I visited her.”

They were still laughing as they arrived at the Serpentine. The water was silver-grey on this cloudy afternoon, and the path around the lake was deserted. It was growing colder, and a breeze blew across the water, rippling the smooth surface and setting the feathers on Heather’s bonnet dancing. Gervase eyed her blue pelisse.

“Are you going to be warm enough? I hadn’t realised it was this cold. In fact, I’m looking at the sky and wondering if this was a good idea. It might rain.”

“Well if it does, we shall not die of it. Though my hat may not survive. A good thing too, I dislike it very much.”

Gervase studied the bonnet. “I don’t see why. It’s a perfectly good hat.”

“With half an aviary pinned to the top. My sister-in-law chose the trimming, she assured me that it was all the crack, but every time I wear it, I expect to be the target of some amorous pigeon. Look at it, it’s ridiculous.”

Gervase began to laugh again. “I’m never going to be able to look at a feather trimmed bonnet in quite the same way.”

“You certainly won’t have to look at this one for much longer. Once I get home it will go into a hat box and remain there until one of my periodic cleaning frenzies, when I will find it in some dark corner, remember why I never wear it and give it to the housekeeper.”

“It’s too pretty for a housekeeper.”

“Don’t be so appallingly top-lofty, Captain, you sound like your brother. Why should a housekeeper not have a stylish bonnet? You have quite decided me, Mrs Mackinnon shall have this hat. She will wear it to church with the greatest pride and be the envy of every other female in the servants’ pews.”

“I wish I could see it,” Gervase said wistfully.

“So do I.”

They stopped to watch two swans gliding gracefully over the surface of the lake, occasionally bending their necks in search of food in the water. After a moment, Gervase transferred his gaze to the woman’s face. Heather was smiling a little, either because the elegant birds pleased her or because she was still amused at their previous conversation. She was a small woman, and very slight, which gave Gervase the pleasant sensation of being taller than he was. He thought how much he liked her upright carriage and the confidence with which she held herself.

She seemed to sense his gaze and turned her head to look at him. “You look very serious, Captain. Tell me you are not regretting the impending loss of this hat.”

“I am not regretting the loss of the hat, ma’am. I’m afraid I’m finding it difficult to contemplate losing the wearer, though.”

As soon as he said it, Gervase wished he had not. He had no idea how to say what he wanted to say, but the glib compliment made him cringe. He waited for the set-down he so richly deserved. Instead, she tilted her head to one side and regarded him thoughtfully.

“I am not about to succumb to some fatal illness, Captain, I am simply returning to Scotland.”

“I know, but it’s too far. I only have three weeks, I can’t possibly travel all that way. If you lived in Hertfordshire or Kent I could wait a few days then invent a perfectly plausible and entirely spurious reason to visit the county and follow you. And possibly, away from the balls and the routs and the worst supper in history, I might be able to pluck up the courage to say…to tell you…”

He broke off, trying to read her expression. To his surprise, she still wore the little half-smile. “To tell me?”

“To ask you.”

“What is it that you wish to ask me, Captain?”

“If you would consider postponing your journey in favour of marrying me instead.”

Heather did not move or speak for such a long time, that Gervase felt an urge to babble, simply to fill the silence. He managed to restrain himself with a huge effort. He had not really intended to blurt out his proposal so clumsily, but now that he had done so, he needed to close his mouth and give her time. He wished she was not taking so long.

Finally, she stirred. “I want to say yes,” she said.

“Then say it.”

“I’m afraid to. I did not think I would ever marry again. Not because I have anything against marriage. Quite the opposite. I was very happy for a few years. I simply did not think I would ever meet a man I could care about, the way I cared about Alex.”

“And have you?”

“Oh yes, I think I have. The problem is that I didn’t expect Alex to die so young. It was a terrible shock, and for a time I think I was quite beside myself with grief. It passed eventually and I recovered. But you…with you…I would need to come to terms with the fact that it could very well happen to me again. And I would not even be there.”

Gervase understood, with a sharp pain around his heart. “Because I am a soldier.”

“Yes, of course.”

“I could stop being a soldier.”

She gave a little laugh. “No, you could not, Gervase. You know you couldn’t. The army is part of you, it’s woven into the very fibre of your being. If you failed to report for duty in three weeks’ time, you would be dreadfully unhappy. And I should never stop feeling guilty.”

Her use of his name brought a flood of happiness and with it, a rush of misery as he understood that she was right. He studied her features, admiring the well-marked brows, the slightly arched nose and the mouth which always seemed to hover on the edge of a smile.

“I don’t know what to say to persuade you,” Gervase said finally. “Heather, I love you. I know this is too sudden, I know I’ve not given you time. I’m sorry, I don’t have the time. I want to make some dramatic declaration about giving everything up for you, but…”

“Oh, please do not, it would be so embarrassing,” Heather said fervently. “And then I should be in such a quandary because I haven’t the least intention of giving everything up for you. I don’t want to give up my home and move to London. I’m not even sure it is good for people to give up the things they love to be with another person. Surely there is a better way.”

Gervase reached out and took her hand, raising it to his lips. “I hope there is,” he said. “I hope we can find it. Please don’t give me an answer now. This may be rushed, but at least think about it. Please.”

Heather reached out and caressed his cheek. “Of course, I’m going to think about it,” she said, and Gervase was surprised to hear the catch of tears in her voice. “If I didn’t love you, Gervase, I would just say no.”

Something splashed onto Gervase’s hand. He looked down in surprise and then felt another splash and another. He looked up and realised that the clouds had darkened while they had been talking, and huge raindrops had begun to fall.

“Oh no. No wonder we’re the only people in the park. We need to get back. I think we’re in for a downpour.”

“I think we may be in for a storm, Captain.”

Gervase realised she was right. As they made their way back along the path, it grew steadily darker. Long before they reached the gates the sky lit up with the sudden brilliance of a flash of lightning, followed by the crash of thunder. The rain increased to a downpour and Gervase was soaked within minutes. He looked at Heather. Her pelisse clung to her as though she had fallen into the lake and the despised feathers were a sodden mess over her bonnet. He had thought the pelisse warm enough for a spring walk in the park, but she was shivering now. He hesitated and she flashed him her familiar grin.

“Don’t bother, Captain, your coat is just as wet as I am. I’d suggest we run but soaked skirts are a hazard.”

Another flash of lightning split the dark sky and the crash of thunder was so immediate that Gervase jumped. He looked around him but there was no shelter to be had. The avenue which led to the gate was lined with trees, which bothered him, but it was by far the most direct route and he decided that speed was of the essence. He reached for her hand, and her soaked kid glove squelched.

“I think I may need new gloves as well as a hat,” Heather said. She was trying to sound matter of fact, but the effect was rather spoiled by her chattering teeth.

“I know you can’t run but let’s walk as quickly as possible. It will keep you warmer.”

She kept up with him very well, despite the heavy sodden skirts. The rain was torrential, showing no sign of easing off and there were repeated flashes of lightning. The thunder reminded Gervase of the roar of cannon. He had been through a number of bad storms but this one felt as though it was happening directly over his head.

To his relief, he could make out the shapes of the elaborate iron gates through the rain. Heather sounded breathless and he glanced at her, wondering if it was because she was shivering so much or if he was walking too fast for her.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, of course. Just cold and wet. My sister-in-law will be having a fit, she hates thunderstorms.”

“At least she’s not out in it. Take my arm, it’s not far now, and only ten minutes once we’re outside the gates. I’d call a cab but we’d never find one, they’ll all be hiding out waiting for this to finish.”

“They have my sympathy, I’d welcome a nice dry stable right…”

The crash was enormous, shockingly loud amidst the steady beating of the rain, and very close. Gervase jumped violently, and his companion cried out. The dark sky was illuminated above them, then the thunder boomed. Something fell onto the path beside them and it took Gervase a moment to assimilate that it was a piece of burning wood. The brilliance of the lightning was gone, but there was still a fiery glow and an ominous cracking sound. Gervase spun around. The tree was ablaze, orange flames leaping up into the sky. It was also listing dangerously towards the path.

Gervase gave a yell of warning, grasped Heather’s arm and began to run. She kept pace for a few seconds before her legs became entangled in the heavy dragging skirts and she stumbled and fell heavily. Gervase bent to help her up, hearing the crackling of the flames and the creaking, rumbling sound of the tree. The strike had gone deep into its core and it was falling, the branches on fire and the entire trunk looking as though it was alight from within.

Heather made it to her feet, but as they began to run, the tree came down behind them, with a thunderous crash. They were out of reach of the trunk, but not of the blazing branches. Gervase felt one strike his arm, the flames terrifyingly close to his head, and he threw out his arm to bat it away. He thought they were clear, then Heather screamed and went down again, dragging on the hand he was holding. He turned and saw, in horror, that a blazing branch had hit the back of her legs, knocking her off her feet again.

Gervase released her hand and hooked his boot under the branch, kicking it away. Heather’s skirts were blackened to the knee at the back, but they were not alight, probably because they were too wet to catch. Gervase bent and scooped her up into his arms, thanking God that she was not heavy. He ran towards the gates, intent only on getting far enough away from the burning tree to be out of further danger.

When he was sure it was safe, he stopped. Carefully he lowered Heather to the ground. He thought she was unconscious, but as he bent over her, rain pouring off the brim of his hat, she opened her eyes.

“Are you all right, Gervase?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing. Your legs…”

“It hurts.”

“I need to get help.”

“No. Help me up, would you? I don’t want to lie here in the rain, I’ll freeze. It’s painful, but I think I can walk.”

Gervase complied reluctantly. As he stood, holding her arm, waiting for her to compose herself enough to begin the walk, he heard voices raised in a babble of consternation. Turning, he realised that the lightning strike had attracted attention out in the street and a dozen or more people were running towards them. Gervase felt a rush of relief.

“It’s the cavalry, ma’am. Late as usual and no clue what they’re doing, but when they see something bright and shiny, they can’t resist. Which on this occasion, is a good thing, because they can find me a carriage of some kind, and I can get you home. Just hold on, it won’t be long now.”

He realised that she was swaying on her feet, and he put his arm about her and lowered her once again to the soaked grass. She closed her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I feel very dizzy. What an unexpectedly dramatic end to a walk.”

“It didn’t really end the way I’d hoped, ma’am.”

Heather opened her distinctive blue-grey eyes and fixed him with a look. “If you call me ‘ma’am’ once more, I will not be answerable for my actions,” she said, and closed her eyes again with an air of finality.

***

By the time the doctor had left, Heather was exhausted and wanted only to sleep. Dr Medway had dressed the burns on her calves, examined and commented on her very badly skinned and bruised knees from her fall, and bled her. Heather submitted although she privately thought that she might have been better without his treatment. The burns were superficial although sore, her knees hurt but would recover and the bleeding made her feel light-headed. She was not hungry but ate supper to please her brother and his wife who hovered anxiously around her until she feigned sleep to make them go away. Gervase Clevedon had left as soon as he had seen her safe. Heather was both sorry and glad. Their conversation had resolved nothing, and she knew she needed to give him a definite answer, but she had to have some time to herself.

She had expected to lie awake turning the matter over in her mind, but to her surprise she fell asleep quickly and did not wake until her sister-in-law appeared along with a maid carrying a breakfast tray. Fiona watched critically until she was sure that Heather was eating, then sat down.

“You seem surprisingly well for a woman who was almost burned to death in Hyde Park yesterday.”

“Yes, I take these things in my stride,” Heather said, sipping her tea. She put down her cup and met Fiona’s interested gaze. “It was utterly terrifying,” she admitted.

“I’m not surprised. What on earth possessed you to stay out so long? We could see that storm coming in. When Susan returned to the house alone, I was about to send the carriage out to find you.”

“We lost track of time, we were talking. I didn’t notice anything until it began to rain.”

“I see.”

Heather finished her tea and contemplated a baked egg. “Fiona, if you continue to beat around the bush, it will be dinner time before you have discovered what you wish to know, and you know how quickly I become bored.”

“Did he ask you to marry him?”

“Yes.”

“Did you give him an answer?”

“No. I asked for time to think about it. After that, events rather took over.”

“I can see that they would. Heather, I don’t wish to pry…”

“Yes you do.”

“All right. I have every intention of prying as much as I am able. My dear, I’ve known you since we were both children. I’ve been watching you for two months trying not to fall in love with Captain Clevedon, and you have made a very poor job of it. Why did you not say yes?”

“It isn’t that simple, Fiona. I do…like him. And he seems to like me as well. But…”

“From the moment you walk into a room, Heather, he cannot see anybody else.”

Heather felt her pulse quicken a little. She looked up from her plate. “Really?”

“Really. It is generally assumed, you know, that you will be engaged before he goes back to Portugal.”

“By whom?”

“By everybody who has seen you together. Nothing could be more suitable. He is charming, personable, not at all bad to look at…”

“Not bad?” Heather said indignantly. “I consider him very handsome.”

“He could be taller, but he has very fine eyes.”

“Well, he is quite tall enough for me, given that I am a midget. Besides, looks do not matter. Alex had a face rather like a friendly goat, and I was devoted to him.”

Fiona studied her sympathetically. “Is Alex the problem? It’s been three years, Heather.”

“It isn’t Alex. He would tell me to do whatever I wanted and be happy. I think he would approve of Gervase.”

“So do I.”

“But I never thought I would marry again, Fiona. I don’t need to. I have Comrie Castle and a comfortable income.”

“Don’t you want children?”

“I’ve no idea if I can have children. Fortunately, you and Charles seem willing to provide me with plenty of nephews and nieces. That’s not a reason for me to marry, Fiona.”

“But you love him.”

Heather lowered her eyes to the tray. She had lost interest in the food. “I don’t know. I thought I did. I think I do. But surely if I did, I wouldn’t have these doubts?”

“Were you going home early because you were running away from him, Heather?”

Heather looked up with a rueful smile. “Yes. And if it had not been for this wretched accident, I would be packing now.”

“Well you can’t leave yet, the doctor is adamant you should at least rest for a few days. And those burns look nasty.”

“They’re not that bad. But you’re right, I am not feeling equal to days of travelling. Besides, now that he has asked me, I cannot run away without giving him my answer.”

“I don’t think he’s going to let you, my love. He’s already called this morning and asked if he might come back this afternoon if you’ll be ready to receive callers.”

“Oh no,” Heather said, startled. “I cannot see him like this, I look like a scarecrow.”

Fiona stood up, laughing. “I’ll call Sally to take that tray and I’ll send up Susan to help you dress.”

“Fiona, are you by any chance trying to coerce me into this marriage?”

“I’m not, Heather, truly. But I don’t understand what is stopping you. Perhaps you can explain it to him.”

“I’ve already explained it to him,” Heather said in a rush. Suddenly she was close to tears. “He’s a soldier. Three weeks, that’s all I have. After that, I wave him off and sit waiting for the post to see if he is alive or dead. It could be years before he comes home, and we can be married. I don’t know if I can bear it, Fiona.”

Her sister-in-law stood looking at her for a long moment. Then she said quietly:

“Heather, do you think you will feel any better if you refuse him and read about his death in the Gazette? Or if he comes home and finds a pretty little debutante and it’s his marriage announcement you’re reading?”

“Don’t. You’re as bad as Charles.”

“Charles is a tactless oaf, but he is right. You’ve already fallen in love with Gervase Clevedon. What he does and where he goes is always going to matter to you, whether he’s betrothed to you or to somebody else. And he’s the son of an Earl, you can’t avoid hearing about him unless you never read another newspaper.”

“That would not be a hardship.”

“Utter rubbish, you’ll be scanning the army lists and the gossip columns for the rest of your life. I know how much losing Alex hurt you, Heather, I was there, remember? But you can’t shield yourself from pain without losing the chance of happiness. And I think this man might make you very happy.”

Heather realised she was crying. She scrubbed at her face fiercely and the china on the tray rattled dangerously. Fiona caught it before it slid onto the floor, lifted it onto Heather’s dressing table, then went to the bell pull.

“You have to see him,” she said.

***

Captain Clevedon arrived punctually at the afternoon calling hour and was shown into the ladies’ parlour. Heather was sure Fiona had instructed the butler to refuse all other callers. Fiona greeted him pleasantly, thanked him again for taking care of Heather on the previous day, then departed with no excuse at all. Heather glared after her retreating back, then turned to her visitor, quaking.

He was as immaculately turned out as ever, with no sign of their adventure apart from a long scratch on one cheek. As soon as the door had closed behind Fiona, he came forward and took Heather’s hand.

“How are you? Lady Crawleigh said that the burns weren’t serious, but I didn’t sleep last night worrying about you.”

Heather felt irrationally guilty. “I slept very well, I must have been exhausted.”

“I’m not surprised. I’ve never known a stroll in Hyde Park to be so exciting, I’m almost looking forward to a battlefield in Portugal for a rest. Seriously though…”

“Seriously, Gervase, I’m very well. What of you? I didn’t notice that scratch yesterday.”

“Nor did I, it must have been a branch. I’ve a burn on my upper arm and my jacket is beyond hope, but I’ve a spare and time to order a new one, thank goodness.”

“I’m afraid my hat did not survive,” Heather said apologetically. “I’m sorry, I know you were very attached to it.”

He started to laugh. “We’re about to start talking utter nonsense again. And I do enjoy it, Heather, really I do. But I’m too nervous to make the best of it today. Do you mind if we’re serious, just for a short time?”

Heather smiled back at him. “Of course. Shall we sit down, then? It’s far better to have serious conversations when seated, it checks the urge to pace about the room dramatically.”

“I’d never thought of that. I might suggest it to Major van Daan. From a safe distance, mind, just in case he punches me.”

When they were seated, Gervase cleared his throat. Heather recognised his nervousness and decided to speak first. They spoke at the same time and both stopped immediately.

“Gervase…”

“Look, Heather…”

There was a short awkward silence. Then Gervase said quickly:

“I know that the gentlemanly thing to do would be to allow you to go first, but may I?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry about yesterday. Sorry that it descended into such a disaster, but sorry as well that I made such a mull of proposing to you. I’ve been trying to work myself up to it, but I was rather thrown when you told me you were going out of town so soon. I rushed it.”

Heather smiled. “Gervase, it didn’t matter how you said it, I was always going to panic.”

“Didn’t you realise I was going to ask you?”

“Oh…I don’t know. I knew how I felt of course, and I suspected that you…I don’t know, Gervase. I think I did know. I think that’s why I decided to leave. I was running away, which was very silly and a little unkind. I’ve been concentrating so hard on how I feel that I’ve not considered you at all. I’m not usually this selfish.”

“Are you still leaving town?”

Heather shook her head. “No. I can’t travel that far until I feel a little better. But I wouldn’t anyway, now. I’m so glad you spoke when you did, it has made me realise that I cannot flee back to Scotland and pretend this has not happened.”

“I’m glad too. I asked you to think about it, but I don’t suppose you’ve had the chance…”

“Oh for goodness sake, Gervase, do not speak like an idiot when you are clearly very intelligent. I’ve thought of nothing else all day.”

“Then tell me.”

“I am very confused,” Heather said, twisting her hands together in her lap. “When I try to imagine agreeing to a betrothal, it terrifies me. I will have three lovely weeks as your fiancée, and I know perfectly  well that by the end of them I will love you more than ever. And then I will wave you off and go home to wait for you, and dread every letter that is delivered in case it is bad news. I know how it feels to lose the man I love. I don’t know if I can bear it again. Do you understand?”

“Yes. Oh love, yes, of course I understand. No wonder you’re terrified. But I am too.”

“Are you?”

“Yes. I had no intention at all of falling in love this season, it is a ridiculous thing to have done. I meant to attend a few parties, meet some old friends and then go home to Ampthill and spend a week or two recovering before going back to barracks in Melton Mowbray. You turned everything upside down.”

Heather was astonished. “Are you telling me you have remained in London because of me?”

“Of course I have. My brother is here, Heather, which is always my cue to be somewhere else. It’s been torture seeing so much of him.”

“I must say, that is an impressive sign of your devotion.”

“Don’t start, or we shall get nowhere, and we’re running out of time. I want so much to tell you that I will leave the army and devote my life to making you happy. But…”

“I wouldn’t allow you to do that, Gervase. It would be like you asking me to sell Comrie.”

“One day I’ll be home, love, but I can’t tell you when that will be and I won’t lie to you. I love you. I want to marry you. I know I’m asking a lot. I know it might be too much. It’s all I have.”

Heather could feel tears beginning to fall. “Gervase, I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do.”

“Nor do I, but I’ve found that panic is a great motivator, so here’s what I’ve done. Yesterday, after I left you here, I made a number of calls, while still soaking wet, covered in mud and looking like a lunatic. I’m surprised nobody sent a message to either Bow Street or Bedlam, but I managed to obtain this.”

Heather regarded the folded paper he was holding out to her. After a moment, she reached out and took it. She unfolded it and stared at it for a long time. He waited in silence. Eventually she looked up.

“It’s a special licence.”

“It is. I also made a visit to the rector of St George’s, who is an old family friend. He clearly thought I was mad, but he examined his church calendar and, subject to your approval, he is able to marry us on Wednesday at eleven o’clock. You may invite whomever you choose, but I would be happy with just your brother and his wife.”

“Oh.” Heather knew she sounded utterly witless, but she felt the need to say something and could think of nothing better. “That is very organised of you, Captain Clevedon.”

“Thank you. If you agree to this piece of insanity, I propose to take you home to Bedfordshire to meet my mother and I will spend three weeks trying to convince you you’ve made the right choice. After that, I have to leave, and you’re free to remain for a while to get to know your new home, or to return to your old one and wait for me there. Or you can come back to London and cut a dash as the new Mrs Clevedon. As long as you’re happy and safe and well and will wait for me…Heather, I know this isn’t good enough for you. Nothing I can offer is good enough for you. But…”

“Yes, it is.” Suddenly, Heather found that she could both move and speak, and she followed her instinct and moved towards him. He put his arms about her without any hesitation and kissed her. For a while, she lost all sense of time and when they were finally interrupted by a polite cough from the doorway, Heather realised that she was lying across his lap in the most ridiculous position. It felt very comfortable and she sat up somewhat resentfully, noticing that her hair had come down.

“I am so sorry to interrupt,” Fiona said. “It’s just that Dr Medway has called. He wants to look at the dressing on your burns. And I was wondering if Captain Clevedon will be staying to dinner. We don’t have any other guests today.”

Heather turned her head to look at him. He was smiling at her, waiting, and she knew with complete certainty that even now, if she sent him away, he would go without recrimination. She decided that life back at Comrie would be far better waiting for his letters and knowing that he would be coming home to her one day.

“Captain Clevedon will be staying to dinner,” she said firmly. “And Fiona, I need your help. I’m getting married in two days’ time, and I don’t think I have anything suitable to wear.”

***

 It was the usual chaos at Southampton and it took Gervase half a day to find the correct transport for his company. He felt slightly guilty knowing that his subalterns had done all the work preparing the company for embarkation, but there was little for him to do, so he inspected his men, complimented his juniors and then went in search of his commanding officer.

Gervase found him in a comfortable inn not far from the quayside. Major Paul van Daan was writing a letter at a table in the tap room, but he rose as Gervase entered and came forward. Gervase saluted and Paul returned the salute and then pulled out a chair.

“Sit down and have a drink. It’s good to see you, Gervase. Are you fully recovered? You look so much better, I was delighted when you wrote that you were well enough. Not everybody has done as well, we’ve only six companies setting sail, but I’m hoping they can bring the others up to strength soon.”

“I’m very well, sir. Looking forward to getting back to work. Is Sir Arthur Wellesley sailing with us?”

“Yes, he’s aboard my transport. Along with my wife, she’s coming with me this time, at least as far as Lisbon. I’ve kept on the villa I rented last year.”

“I look forward to seeing her, sir.”

They talked for a while of army news and Gervase enjoyed the sense of being part of the regiment again. He had no particular desire to share his own news. It was too new and too precious and he would have liked to keep it to himself for a while longer, but he knew he could not. In the general conversation of regimental life, and the banter in the officers’ mess, he would either have to speak up or lie, and he would not lie. He waited until the first exchange of news was over. Eventually, Paul summoned the waiter with more drinks.

“Did you see your brother?”

“Briefly. I also saw your brother, sir, which was much more pleasant.”

“Did you? Joshua didn’t mention it, but he’s been busy. What about…”

“Sir, I imagine some of the others are going to be joining us for dinner, and there’s something I need to speak to you about first.”

Paul stopped and regarded him in surprise. “Of course. Go on. Unless it’s going to annoy me, in which case stop now.”

Gervase laughed. “I don’t think it will annoy you, sir, but I do have a confession. I’ve rather broken army rules, I’m afraid. A minor matter. I didn’t even think about it until afterwards.”

“Captain, in the five years I’ve known you, I swear to God you’ve not put a toe out of place. I’d be amazed if you could upset me. What have you done?”

Gervase took a very deep breath. “I got married, sir, without asking your permission.”

There was a very long silence. The waiter appeared with the wine and poured. Paul waited until he had gone.

“You did what?”

“I got married, sir.”

“And you didn’t think to write to me?”

“I’m sorry, sir. It was all rather sudden. It honestly didn’t occur to me.”

“Gervase, I do not give a damn about permission. You have it, retrospectively. But this great hurry…is everything all right?”

Gervase tried to suppress a grin and failed. “We married in a hurry because we wanted some time together before I left,” he said.

Paul’s expressive face cleared. “An excellent reason. I’m assuming this is the attractive Mrs MacLeod.”

“Yes,” Gervase said suspiciously. “How do you know she’s attractive?”

“I asked Wellesley if he knew her and he managed to point her out her when we were riding in the Row on the day before I left. You’ve excellent taste, Captain.”

“Sir…”

“I will behave, I swear it. Gervase, congratulations. I wish I’d known, I’d have posted down to meet her. Was there even a notice in the Times?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I missed it. I never read the thing anyway. This has been done very quietly. Is that how you want it?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll tell my friends of course, but I don’t want a big announcement or a celebration. It was a very quiet affair, which is what we both wanted.”

“That’s your choice, Captain. Johnny and Carl and a few of the others are dining here today. Do you want to tell them, or shall I?”

“You can do it,” Gervase said gratefully.

“I’ll propose a toast to the bride and groom and after that, we’ll leave it alone. If I were you, I’d tell the men though. They’ll find out anyway and they’ll appreciate it coming from you especially with an extra grog ration to drink your health.”

“I’ll see to it, sir. Thank you.”

Paul sipped his wine and regarded him with amusement. “Of all the men I’d have expected to make a hasty marriage on furlough, Captain, you’d have been close to the bottom of the list. She must have made a big impression on you.”

Gervase suppressed a grin. He felt suddenly as though Heather was in the room with him and he managed not to snigger.

“Like a bolt of lightning, sir,” he said seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

An Unmerciful Incursion….an early snippet

An Unmerciful Incursion….an early snippet

This is the opening scene of the new book, an Unmerciful Incursion, book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s due out on 31 July 2020 and I can’t wait.

We’re in winter quarters in 1812-13 and the Royal Scots Guards are having an unusually bad day…

Captain Leo Manson was hungry. He had been aware for some time of his stomach growling, but the sound was becoming audible now, or it would have been, if there had not been so much noise on the parade ground. The noise was rising steadily, a combination of marching feet, shouted orders and the quiet grumbling of officers and NCOs who were aware that it was past the dinner hour. The bugle had called some time ago, and the major who was theoretically supervising the drill had hesitated and shot an uncertain glance towards Manson and his companion, who had shaken his head without speaking. Major Beaumont signalled for the drill to continue, but the interruption seemed to have affected the troops, and the manoeuvres, which had been looking considerably better, were deteriorating again.

“To the right, wheel! March!”

The men on the right of the rank stepped off, turning their eyes to the left. Manson watched, hopefully. For the first few steps, things seemed to be going well, but as the movement continued, he realised that some of the troops had forgotten to lengthen their steps. To maintain the wheel in perfect order, each man needed to pay attention to the exact length of his stride or the wheel would fall apart very quickly. It did so, before Manson’s gloomy gaze, with several men treading on those in front of them, and others scrambling in a series of quick, untidy steps to catch up. The celebrated first battalion of the Scots Guards looked like a draught of militia recruits during their first drill session and Manson gritted his teeth to stop himself intervening, silently pleading with the officers to stop the manoeuvre before it got any worse.

“Halt!”

The bellow was so loud that Manson physically jumped, even though he knew it was coming. The battalion stopped in its tracks, apart from several men caught in mid-step who cannoned into their comrades, causing a series of collisions which shoved one man out of the front rank on his own. The private froze, recognising his isolation, and looked desperately at his sergeant, who glanced at the nearest officer before jerking his head to indicate that the private retreat. The man made his way back into the line in a sideways shuffle which made Manson want to laugh aloud. Manson’s companion said a word under his breath which was inappropriate for a senior officer on the parade ground and strode to the front of the battalion with the air of a man driven beyond his endurance. Manson, who had served under Colonel Paul van Daan of the 110th light infantry for more than two years, forgot about his rumbling stomach and just prayed that his commanding officer did not hit anybody.

“You, what’s your name?”

The hapless soldier who had just made it back into the line, stared at the colonel, his mouth open, but no sound came out.

“Step forward.”

The man did so. Paul van Daan moved closer and inspected him from head to toe with ruthless thoroughness, then held out his hand.

“Musket.”

The man hesitated, and his sergeant, who seemed to have regained his wits, stepped forward. “Andrews, the officer of the 110th wishes…”

“Enough!” Paul roared, and the sergeant jumped to attention. “Andrews, give me the bloody musket before I take it from you and shove it where it will never see the sun. Sergeant Bolton, step back, I’ve not given you an order.”

Andrews handed over the musket. He was sweating in fear, and Manson felt a twinge of sympathy for the man. Paul turned the weapon over in his hands, inspecting the touch hole, the lock and then the entire weapon very thoroughly. When he had done, he handed the musket back to Andrews who took it and returned to attention, staring woodenly ahead.

“Well, Private Andrews, it’s clear you were paying attention when they taught you how to keep your musket in good order, even if you missed basic drill training. When did you join?”

“August, sir.”

“When did you arrive in Portugal?”

“October, sir.”

“Well you were bloody lucky you didn’t arrive earlier, you missed the worst retreat since Corunna. How much drill training have you had, so far?”

“Sir.” Andrews shot an agonised look towards his captain, who was watching the little drama with a thunderous expression. Paul followed his gaze and Manson saw a faint smile.

“Never mind, you can’t really tell me you’ve had virtually none, can you?”

Paul turned away and walked to the front, surveying the battalion. His voice had a carrying power which any drill sergeant would have envied.

“Major Beaumont. Your officers will be missing their dinner. Why don’t you go on ahead, I want a word with the battalion and then I’ll join you.”

There was a rustle of disquiet among the men as the officers left. Colonel van Daan waited until they had gone, then turned back to the men.

“Sergeant-Major Clegg. Separate out the new recruits, get them lined up over there. And get a move on, I’m so hungry my belly is sticking to my spine. Private Andrews, lead them out.”

Manson watched their faces as Paul began to shout out orders, and he wanted to smile. He had seen it happen many times before. Within minutes, the drill was running, and with only experienced troops, it ran very well. The NCOs, visibly relieved at being able to demonstrate how well their men could perform, kept the movements tight, and the companies worked well together. Paul watched, calling out an occasional order, but mostly left the NCOs to their work. Once it was evident that the Royal Scots Guards were moving smoothly, Paul crossed to where the new troops stood watching in miserable silence, and Manson saw Paul put his hand on Andrews’ shoulder. He was speaking to him, pointing out what was happening in the manoeuvre, and Manson could see the man relaxing. Paul said something and several of the men around him laughed.

When the drill was done, Paul called the new recruits back into line. “Well done,” he said. “I’d a feeling you were better than that. Don’t get arsey with the new lads, we were all there once and they’ll learn quicker if you work together. I’m pleased that I’ll be able to report back to Lord Wellington that the Scots Guards are still the men who proved their worth at Salamanca. Is anybody hungry?”

There was a murmur of laughter and then somebody cheered. Paul grinned, and taking it as permission, the battalion yelled to a man, driven, Manson thought, not only by the thought of dinner but by an unexpected sense of camaraderie. Paul gave the order to stand the men down and walked over to Manson.

“Do you think we’re going to get any dinner?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, sir. That went very well, though.”

“Yes, they’re good lads.”

“They’re good officers as well, sir.”

“They might be, Captain, but if they’ve done more than a couple of hours worth of work with their new recruits this winter, I’ll be very surprised. Don’t look at me like that. I’m going to go in there, explain his Lordship’s instructions and be really, really tactful. I give you my word.”

Manson watched as the tall, fair figure walked towards the solid farm building which currently housed the battalion officers’ mess and felt his heart sink. Colonel Paul Van Daan could manage the enlisted men and NCOs better than any officer Manson had ever seen, but his attitude towards a commissioned officer whom he suspected of shirking his duty frequently left chaos in his wake.

“Captain Manson, where the devil are you? Get in here, I’m hungry.”

Manson sighed and followed, reflecting that whatever the atmosphere in the mess, there would at least be dinner.

The atmosphere was uncomfortable enough for Manson to be happy to miss breakfast the following morning. It was approximately thirty miles from Guarda, where the first division was in cantonments, to Freineda where Wellington had his headquarters. Paul, Manson and Sergeant Jenson, Paul’s orderly, were travelling light and made good time. They stopped in the little village of Braga where a farmer made up for the lack of an early meal with excellent fare and a wealth of local gossip. He and Paul were clearly old acquaintances and Manson ate in silence, trying to follow the conversation which was in rapid Portuguese and seemed to consist of a series of enquiries about members of the farmer’s extended family. Back on the road, Paul was considerably more cheerful.

“I’ve known old Barboza since I was out here under Craufurd a few years ago, he was always good to us. Much better manners than the officers of the Royal Scots Guards, I must say.”

“Sir, you threatened to punch one of the officers of the Royal Scots Guards.”

“Only after he challenged me to a duel,” Paul said composedly. “A challenge which I nobly resisted. I wonder if he’ll complain to Lord Wellington?”

“I expect he’s already written the letter, sir.”

“Perhaps Wellington will be so furious that he’ll remove me from this assignment,” Paul said hopefully. “I’m not at all suited to the job.”

Manson could not help smiling. “You are suited to the job, sir, you just hate doing it.”

“I hate being away from my wife,” Paul said. “She’s barely out of her bed after giving birth, and given what a horrendous ordeal that proved to be, she shouldn’t be out of her bed at all. But we all know that she won’t give a button for the list of instructions that I left for her and is probably doing something highly unsuitable without me there to keep an eye on her.”

“Sir, she’d be doing that even if you were there.”

“You know her very well, Captain.” Paul shot him a smile. “I’m glad I asked you to come with me, Leo, it’s been good to get some time with you.”

“Me too, sir. It’s been a mad few months.”

“It’s been a mad few years.”

Manson could not disagree. He had arrived in Portugal with the 112th infantry, and his early introduction to army life and in particular to Colonel Paul van Daan had not been easy, but both Manson and Paul had persevered. Two and a half years later, Manson was captain of the 110th light company and enjoyed a close friendship with both Paul and his young wife, who travelled with the battalion.

Paul was currently in command of the third brigade of the light division, under its Hanoverian commander, General Charles Alten, but during winter quarters, had been given an unwelcome secondment by Lord Wellington to tour the various divisions of the army, inspecting training and combat readiness. Manson was not entirely clear about Paul’s remit and he did not think that Paul was either, but after only a few weeks it was obvious that some of the officers of Lord Wellington’s army were furiously resentful about his interference in the running of their battalions. Paul’s friendship with Wellington, and his past record of taking on jobs that no other officer in the army wanted to do, had led to him being nicknamed Wellington’s Mastiff several years ago. Manson had heard the sobriquet again recently, and not in an affectionate way.

If Paul cared, he gave no sign of it. Manson thought that his commanding officer was more concerned with the problems he was finding with training and discipline in some of the divisions, than with his own unpopularity. Another officer might have treated this job as a sinecure, sending glowing reports back to Wellington on every occasion and making friends throughout the army but Manson knew that Paul would do no such thing. He treated each inspection as a personal quest to improve things and Manson was exasperated both with his over-conscientious colonel and with Lord Wellington who had set him an impossible task. To make it worse, many of the officers he was dealing with, were of higher rank than he, and resented advice and recommendations from a mere colonel.

An Unmerciful Incursion is available to pre-order on Amazon here.

 

Private Correspondence: Walcheren 1809

Private Correspondence: Walcheren 1809 is from a series of letters found in the papers of Captain Hugh Kelly RN and in the Van Daan collection. Experts on the period have often commented on how much correspondence appears to be missing from the well-known Peninsular War officer. It is known that General van Daan corresponded regularly with the Duke of Wellington over the years, but sadly few of these letters have been discovered and by a strange omission, none were included in the Duke’s edited correspondence.

In 1809,  Major van Daan was serving in Portugal and Spain with the first battalion of the 110th under Sir Arthur Wellesley while Captain Hugh Kelly RN commanded the Iris during the expedition to the Scheldt.

Extract of a letter from Captain Hugh Kelly, RN to Major Paul van Daan, August 1809

As if this expedition wasn’t bad enough, I seem to have lost young Durrell, who has been temporarily seconded to the flagship by the particular request of Captain Sir Home Riggs Popham. I am assured by Sir Richard Strachan that this is only temporary, but I’m worried about the lad, I don’t like the company he’s keeping.

Popham, by the way, is more insufferable than ever. I’ve not the least idea what his job actually is, although I’m reliably informed he was instrumental in the planning of this expedition, which might explain why nobody is going anywhere. He behaves as though he were Captain of the Fleet, but he isn’t; we don’t seem to have one of those. Whatever he is supposed to be doing, he is all over the place as usual, you’d be hard put to know if he’s army or navy, since he’s forever on shore. From Durrell’s letters, he’s an alarmingly regular visitor to headquarters, which cannot be easy for Durrell who would rather be nowhere near the place.

I hope things are going better for you.

Yours, with esteem

Captain Hugh Kelly, RN

An Unconventional OfficerExtract of letter from Major Paul van Daan to Captain Hugh Kelly, August 1809

I’ll be honest, Captain, you might still be having a better time than I’ve been this past month. I am about to embark upon a painful retreat back from Spain, made worse by a hole in my chest which I acquired at a place called Talavera. I’m told we won, which I’d no way of knowing as I was carried off the field half dead. Thankfully, I’m on the mend now, thanks to the efforts of a rather unusual young female who is married to an officer of the quartermasters’ department and who is our new and wholly unofficial surgeon’s assistant.

I hope your campaign is over quickly, that it’s less miserable than Copenhagen, and that you get through it without shooting that arsehole Popham. Sorry I can’t be there to do it for you. I hope the lad’s all right, he doesn’t need to be spending his time with that smug bastard.

By the way, why is Durrell dodging army headquarters? I thought he liked Lord Chatham.

I hope your reply will find me safe in Lisbon. Or anywhere but here, it’s a hell hole, we’re short of supplies and Sir Arthur Wellesley is in the foulest temper I’ve ever seen, made worse by the fact that I’ve been too ill for him to take it out on me.

Yours affectionately, Major Paul van Daan

Extract of a letter from Captain Hugh Kelly, RN to Major Paul van Daan, September 1809

I hope you’re still recovering well. Take a tip from an older man, Major, and duck next time.

Poor Durrell is trying to avoid his brother who has taken up some nameless and pointless post at headquarters. I’ve no idea what he’s doing there and I suspect Lord Chatham has even less idea, the poor man seems permanently surrounded by a pack of hangers-on and holiday-makers. They say that he seldom emerges from his bedroom before noon; if I had that lot, on top of this campaign, to contend with, I’d stay there all day.

Don’t even talk to me about bombarding a city. Flushing was a horror, I’m not likely to forget it in a hurry.

I’ve no idea how long we’ll be here; I don’t think we’ve a cat in hell’s chance of getting anywhere near Antwerp now, and on top of that, there are reports of sickness among the troops. I hope your second battalion isn’t affected, I’ve met one or two of them. Have you friends there?

Extract of a letter from Major Paul van Daan to Captain Hugh Kelly, September 1809

I’ve received a letter from a friend in the second battalion. Captain, what the hell is going on over there? Are you and your crew all right? Is it true the expedition is pulling out?

Is Durrell back with you? It doesn’t sound as though you’d want him on shore just now.

Headquarters has moved to Viseu and Wellington is planning how to stop another invasion, but it’s fairly quiet here. I’m hoping that the stories I’m hearing are exaggerated,  but get that boy back with you, if Popham is still strutting around the army lines and gets him killed with some bloody Dutch fever, I am going to catch up with that bastard and shoot him in the head. It’s high time somebody did it, I’d be doing the world a favour.

I really don’t like what I’m hearing about what’s happening on Walcheren. For God’s sake, write to me, sir, I want to know you’re both all right…

 

Evacuating the sick from South Beveland, 1809

 

This Blighted Expedition: a novel of the Walcheren Campaign of 1809 (Book Two in the Manxman series).  Due for publication on 31st October 2019.

The Peninsular War Saga

General Robert Craufurd fought the battle of the Coa on this bridge

I began writing the Peninsular War Saga some years ago. At the time, I was attempting to find an agent or a publisher for one of my standalone historical romances, without much success. I had a lot of very positive feedback about my writing, my plots and my characterisation but everybody was saying the same thing; we’re sorry, but there is no market for traditional historical romance any more.

More than one agent urged me to try to write a contemporary romance. I made several attempts and hated all of them. Many people told me that with just a little adjustment, I could write for Mills and Boon historical. Once again, I made the attempt, and the people at Mills and Boon were lovely, gave great feedback, but were just not sure that my characterisation was quite right for them. I was getting nowhere.

To cheer myself up, I decided to scrap all my dreams of writing a marketable historical romance and just write something that I really wanted to do. There was definitely no market for a new series about the Peninsular War, since it had been done to death in the years following the runaway success of the Sharpe books and TV series. Still, it’s what I wanted to write, and since it was clear that nobody was going to read it anyway, I felt very liberated. I decided I could write it just for me, about a collection of people who didn’t always feel heroic or brave or even that patriotic. A lot of them joined because they had no option, or because they needed a job. They fought and they died and a lot of them became heroes. They also got wet, got grumpy when they were hungry, got sore feet and developed a bad head cold from time to time.

I wanted to explore areas of the war that I’d not really seen a lot about. What about the medical services? How did the commissariat work and who was responsible for ordnance and transport and prisoners of war? And what about the women and children who followed the army? What was it like in camp and on the long marches and all the boring hours between battles and skirmishes? What were relationships like between officers and men, away from the parade ground and the tidy regulations which governed army life?

Out of all these questions was born the Peninsular War Saga. Finally tired of trying to persuade an agent or a publisher to read one of the books, I decided to publish independently, without really thinking I’d sell more than a dozen copies, let alone develop an enthusiastic following. With book five doing well and book six in the early planning stages, I consider I’ve been incredibly lucky.

The Peninsular War Saga tells the story of the men and women of the fictional 110th Infantry during the wars against Napoleon; in particular, a young officer called  Paul van Daan who joins the regiment in 1802 as it is about to go to India to fight under General Arthur Wellesley.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army
Book 1 in the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer: the Peninsular War Saga Book 1 (1802 – 1810) 

From the battle of Assaye, through Italy, Copenhagen and Portugal, we follow the early career of Lieutenant Paul van Daan, the most unusual officer ever to join the 110th as he attempts to find his place in the regiment.  Along the way he makes both friends and enemies, discovers a talent for leadership and shares his life with two very different women.

An Unconventional Officer is slightly different to the other books, as it covers a longer time period, almost eight years. I wanted it to be a full introduction to Paul’s story and to get him to the point where he was well-established in Wellington’s army. While it introduces many of the main characters, the heart of this novel is the love story between Paul and Anne and its theme is Paul’s gradual development from a young officer willing to break all the rules, to a slightly more mature officer who is beginning to learn to fit in a little better.

An Unwilling Alliance: The Manxman, Book 1 and the Peninsular War Saga Book 1.5 (1806-07)

This book is really a spin-off from the Peninsular War Saga, but it fits very securely within the series as well. It takes place halfway through the action of An Unconventional Officer, during the Copenhagen campaign, which is mentioned, but not explored in book one. I adore this book, partly because the navy theme enabled me to set part of it on the island which is my home and which I love, and partly because it is a real coming-of-age book for Major van Daan as well as a key point in his developing friendship with Sir Arthur Wellesley.

It is 1806 and Captain Hugh Kelly RN returns to the Isle of Mann after fifteen years with a few months leave and a small fortune in prize money to find himself a sensible Manx wife. He pays court to Roseen Crellin, who is determined to resist her father’s efforts to find her a husband. Still dreaming of the young English soldier who sailed away and broke her heart, she has no intention of encouraging Captain Kelly’s courtship and certainly no intention of developing feelings for the man.

Major Paul van Daan is newly promoted and just back from Ireland, sailing with his battalion to Copenhagen under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley.  Paul’s courage and talent are unquestioned but his diplomatic skills need some work and in a joint operation with the navy there are many ways for a man of Paul’s temperament to get things wrong.

As Britain hovers on the brink of war with neutral Denmark and the diplomats and politicians negotiate to keep the Danish fleet out of Bonaparte’s hands, a more personal drama plays out on the decks of the Royal Navy and in the lines of Lord Cathcart’s army which could change the lives of Hugh, Roseen and Paul forever.

An Irregular Regiment

An Irregular Regiment: the Peninsular War Saga Book 2 (September 1810 – April 1811 )

This book covers an area of the war that I knew very little about. The building and manning of the lines of Torres Vedras are absolutely fascinating and worth a lot more time than I was able to give them. It is also the story of a young couple learning to be married, and sets the tone for Paul and Anne’s relationship throughout the series. If you don’t leave your hero and heroine at the church door, you have to work out what their marriage is going to be like, and I loved the challenge of that.

On the heights of Bussaco Ridge, Paul van Daan leads his battalion into action under Lord Wellington in his defeat of the French under Marshal Massena.  The book explores Paul’s developing career, and the happiness of his marriage to the lovely young widow of a fellow officer.  As Wellington prepares to chase Massena out of Portugal, Paul is serving under the worst general in the army and must find a way to keep his regiment safe and protect his reputation.

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'OnoroAn Uncommon Campaign: the Peninsular War Saga Book 3 (April – June 1811)  

In addition to the battles and the personal stories of my characters, I wanted to introduce something about army politics during this book. I particularly love finding an interesting, funny or even a very sad story from history and trying to work it into the lives of my characters.

Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida.  As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is becoming accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and managing the resentment of other officers at his promotion over older and longer serving men.  His young wife is carrying their first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities.  And if that was not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during the days of the battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally, with potentially lethal consequences for the 110th and the rest of the third brigade of the light division.

A Redoubtable Citadel: the Peninsular War Saga Book 4 (January – June 1812) 

This was definitely the most emotional book for me to write. I wanted to highlight the plight of women in wartime, and I’m proud of this book, but it was extremely painful for me.

In the freezing January of 1812, Lord Wellington pushes his army on to the fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo and a bloody siege with tragic consequences.  Colonel Paul van Daan and his wife Anne have a baby son and in the aftermath of the storming, take a brief trip to Lisbon to allow Paul’s family to take little William back to England.  With his career flourishing and his marriage happy, Paul has never felt so secure.  But his world is shattered when his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a personal grudge against Paul.  As Wellington’s army begins the siege of Badajoz, the other great Spanish border fortress, his scouts and agents conduct a frantic search for the colonel’s wife.  Meanwhile Anne van Daan is in the worst danger of her life and needs to call on all her considerable resources to survive, with no idea if help is on the way. 

An Untrustworthy Army: the Peninsular War Saga book 5 (June – December 1812)

This book covers both triumph and miserable retreat and was a wonderful opportunity both to introduce some new characters and to revisit one of the major storylines from the first book. It turned out to be more emotional than I expected and I loved being able to highlight one of my favourite characters whom I felt I’d neglected a little. The story of the retreat from Burgos was impossible to glamorise and highlighted both the best and the worst of Wellington’s army.

It is June 1812 and back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the Third Brigade of the Light Division.

Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the Light Division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos but some of Paul’s brigade have troubles of their own.

Lieutenant Simon Carlyon is determined not to allow his dead brother’s shameful reputation to blight his career in the army but finds it harder than expected to serve under the man who killed him. Colonel Johnny Wheeler is finding the lie he told to protect others difficult to live with, faced with the unrelenting hostility of a young officer. And Captain Michael O’Reilly’s life becomes complicated through a casual act of kindness.

The end of the campaigning season is not going as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat.  At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, Van Daan’s brigade need to set personal matters aside and concentrate on staying alive long enough to reach safety.

Future Books

That’s as far as I’ve got with the novels. My next book is intended to be the sequel to An Unwilling Alliance, covering the disastrous Walcheren campaign of 1809. I’ve not been able to find a novel covering this campaign before so it feels like uncharted territory. I intend to pick up Hugh Kelly’s story, but as the campaign once again involved both army and navy, I will be joining the men of the 110th second battalion, who, while Major van Daan was leading the first battalion to glory in the Peninsula, were unlucky enough to be sent to Walcheren. The working title is An Inauspicious Expedition.

The other books in the Peninsular War Saga, as planned so far are as follows:

An Unrelenting Enmity: set during winter quarters from December 1812 to April 1813

An Auspicious Action: the story of the battle of Vitoria

An Uncivilised Storming: the Pyrenees and San Sebastian

An Inexorable Invasion: the invasion of France

An Improbable Abdication: Toulouse and the return to England

An Unmerciful Engagement: Waterloo

An Amicable Occupation: the Army of Occupation

Looking at that list, I feel a combination of excitement and sheer terror. At present I seem to be able to manage two books a year, but some of these will take more research than others, so I don’t promise that. There will also be more in the Manxman series, since I hope at some point to be able to reunite Hugh Kelly and Paul van Daan.

Currently, I’m beginning the research for the book about Walcheren, which will be published some time next year; I can’t give a date yet until I have a better idea of how long the research will take. I’m also making notes about book 6 in the main saga, which may be quicker to write, given that it is set outside of the main battles and campaigns, although obviously, given that this is the 110th, there will be some action.

So far, most of the books have been published only as e-books, but I am working at changing that. Early next year I am hoping to have all the books in paperback on Amazon, and then to get them into some bookshops or for sale on my website later in the year.

I’ve come a very long way from believing that nobody wants to read another series about the Peninsular War, and I’m so grateful to all my readers, especially those who follow me on facebook and twitter and visit my website regularly. Some of you have left fabulous reviews as well, and every good review is like a gift, even if it’s only a couple of lines.

It has been a good year in many ways at Writing with Labradors, despite losing our beloved Toby. We’re so grateful we have Oscar to step into his paw prints, and we’re looking forward to an even better 2019. In the meantime, remember to look out for book giveaways on Amazon on Christmas Eve, in honour of the Jolabokaflod or Christmas Book Flood. And for future giveaways and updates, please click on the link to subscribe to the newsletter.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at Writing with Labradors.

 

The Lines of Torres Vedras

An Irregular Regiment

An Irregular Regiment : arriving back at the Lines of Torres Vedras, the hero of the Peninsular War Saga, Major Paul van Daan, is learning to adapt to a wife who sees herself as more than a drawing room ornament or the mother of his children…

An Irregular Regiment
Book Two of the Peninsular War Saga

The lines had been created from two ridges of hills by local labour working under the supervision of Fletcher and his engineers. Closed earthworks with a series of small redoubts holding 3-6 guns and 200-300 men, were sited along the high ground of each ridge. Buildings, olive groves and vineyards had been destroyed, denying any cover to an attacking force. Rivers and streams had been dammed to flood the ground below the hills and sections of hillside had been cut or blasted away to leave small but sheer precipices. Ravines and gullies were blocked by entanglements. As she rode beside Paul, listening to him explaining the work that had been done, Anne was amazed at Wellington’s achievement.
“We’ll wait behind the lines,” Paul said. “The fortifications are manned by the Portuguese militia, some Spanish and a few British gunners and marines. Wellington has set up a communication system using semaphore, which is extraordinary. He’s got a proper system based on that bastard Popham’s marine vocabulary but there’s a simpler system in place that the locals can use in case the navy pulls out.”
Anne regarded him blankly. “Popham? Semaphore? This is a side of you I know nothing about.”
Paul stared at her and then laughed. “Well I learned some in the navy as a boy,” he said. “And a little more during the Copenhagen campaign. Which, as you know, did not go well for me. Popham is an arsehole but he’s clever and the system works. I actually find it quite interesting. We can mobilise troops faster than Massena will believe, and the roads the engineers have created mean we can move up and down the lines to where we’re needed very fast. And Wellington has scorched the terrain for miles outside. The French are very good at living off the land, but I think he’s got them beaten this time. It just depends on how long it takes them to realise it.” He smiled at her. “And then we wait, and collect reinforcements and supplies and train our army. Next year we’ll be ready for another advance.”
Anne nodded. She was watching him. “What is it, Paul?”
Paul glanced at her, surprised. Since his conversation with Johnny during the retreat he had found himself studying Anne at odd moments, imagining her as he had known her in Yorkshire. She had always seemed to him much older than her years but now that he had been reminded of her youth he found himself wondering if he had rushed her into this marriage. He had wanted her so badly for so long that when Robert Carlyon had died he had not thought twice about their future together but now he was suddenly anxious that he had not given her enough time. He had not realised that any of this was evident to Anne.
“How do you always know?” he asked curiously.
“Your voice. Your face. Something has been bothering you for a few days.”
“Nan – do I expect too much of you?”
Anne stared at him for a long time. Eventually she said:
“Carl or Johnny? Actually it could be any of them, but they’re the two most likely to say it to you. The rest just think it.”
Paul burst out laughing. “Johnny,” he said. “He noticed you were upset that day in the village. Hearing what they’d done with the girls and at the murder of the villagers. He pointed out that I’d never have let Rowena hear that story. And he was right, I wouldn’t.”
“Paul, I can’t comment on your marriage to Rowena. I only know what I want. Right from the start you have refused to treat me like an idiot or a child, which is how most men treat most women. It is probably a big part of why I love you so much. But that must be difficult because sometimes it means I will get upset, or frightened. And you can’t protect me from that.”
“Johnny reminded me how young you were,” Paul said quietly, reaching for her hand. “And as I heard myself say it, I realised that he might have a point. That at twenty you should be thinking about parties and fashion and jewellery and all the things that I should be able to give you. I’m taking you on a tour of redoubts and blockhouses instead of riding in the row and introducing you to George Brummell and the Prince of Wales.”
Anne began to laugh. “Should I like either of them?”
“I think you’d like George, I do myself. Not so sure about Prinny. Although he’d definitely like you. Now that I think about it, you’re probably safer out here with Wellington, who actually does know how to behave although he wishes he didn’t. But seriously…”
“Paul, seriously, what is this about?”
“I never asked you,” Paul said abruptly. “About any of this. I walked into the villa and I carried you to bed and five days later you’re my wife and in an army camp up to your ankles in mud with no prospect of a normal life, and I never once asked you if that was all right.”
“Did you ever ask Rowena?”
“No. She was pregnant and completely desperate. I took her to Naples deliberately so that she could have Francis away from home. By the time we came back the gossips had forgotten to add up dates and there was no scandal. I never asked her because she had no bloody choice, I’d already had what I wanted out of her, she could hardly say no. And that was unbelievably selfish of me. I meant to do things so differently with you. But I didn’t, did I? By the time we got married I’d already created such a bloody scandal with you that you didn’t have much more choice than Rowena did.”
“And that has been bothering you for days hasn’t it?” Anne was smiling.
“Yes. We laughed about it at the time, but I don’t think I even asked you to marry me properly. I just took what I wanted. Again.”
“Oh love, stop it.” Anne seemed to realise suddenly that he was genuinely upset. “I am going to kick Captain Wheeler for this.”
“It’s not his fault, Nan. It just made me look at this differently. I’ve been so happy. And so completely wrapped up in myself. And that’s what I do. I met you in Yorkshire, and…”
“Paul, stop. What is it you think you should have said to me back in Lisbon?”
“I should have asked you to marry me. I should have told you that I know I am not offering you even a part of what you should have, and that the life is hard and painful and often very sad. There are risks and dangers and you’ll see and hear things that will stay with you all your life. I should have told you how much I love you and that if you wanted you could stay in Lisbon or even go back to England, and I’d still marry you. I should have told you that if I have to choose between this life and you, I choose you. And I should have left you time to make up your mind.”
Anne put her arms about him. “Yes, Major,” she said quietly. “My answer is still yes. And I’m not going either to Lisbon or to England unless that is where you are going too. I love you, and I love this life. I love your regiment no matter how foul mouthed and filthy they are, and I even love Captain Wheeler although I feel sorely tempted to throw him off Bussaco Ridge the next time he does this to you. I am exactly where I want to be. With you. If you show any signs of trying to shelter me in the way you did with Rowena, you are going to find yourself in serious trouble. And how can I doubt what you’d give up for me when you’d have given up your career if you’d fought that duel with Robert?”
“Nan…”
“I love you, Paul. The way you are. I am not going back to England to sew cushion covers and dance at the hunt ball. Since I’ve been out here I’ve discovered there is a lot more to me than that. I’d like to find out what else I’m capable of. And I want to be with you. So please, stop listening to your officers trying to tell you that you’re doing this wrong, because you’re not. Being married to any one of them would drive me mad. And drive them even madder.”
Paul looked down into the dark eyes. He could remember his immense happiness during their hasty wedding, but somehow this felt more significant, as though what they were saying now, mattered more than the ritualised words of the marriage service. This was the conversation he had never found a way to have with Rowena and he realised its absence had got in the way of his feelings for her.
“If that ever changes, you need to tell me.”
Anne’s dark eyes were steady on his. “It isn’t all one way, Paul. I know I’m unconventional. Some of that isn’t going to change. But if I am making your life hard…”
“You’re not.”
“I might. Without ever meaning to. And if I am, you need to tell me so. No silent anger or resentment. That isn’t the way we are going to do things.”
Paul nodded, his eyes on her face. “What did I take on when I married you?” he said softly.
“Just me. I’m not easy, Paul.”
“I know. But somehow I don’t seem to find you difficult at all.”
“Prove it,” Anne said unexpectedly, and he laughed suddenly and reached for her, scooping her up into his arms.
“You don’t have to tell me twice, lass,” he said, his mood suddenly soaring again. “Good thing they’ve not manned this fort yet, it’s nice and sheltered in there.”
Anne was laughing too. “Serve you right if a company of Portuguese militia marches in while you’re busy,” she said. Paul bent his head to kiss her.
“I’ll take the chance,” he said.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army
Book 1 in the Peninsular War Saga

Read the beginnings of Paul and Anne’s love affair in An Unconventional Officer.  Book five of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, is due out later this year.

The Battle of Vimeiro, 1808

The Battle of Vimeiro took place on this day in 1808 when the British under General Sir Arthur Wellesley defeated the French under Major-General Junot near the village of Vimeiro in Portugal.

Four days earlier, Wellesley had defeated the French at the Battle of Rolica. Wellesley knew that his command of the army was temporary; he was seen as too junior a general to have overall command and he had been informed that more senior commanders were on their way. Sir Harry Burrard arrived during the battle and Sir Hew Dalrymple arrived soon after while Sir John Moore landed in time to take command of the British forces and lead them into Spain.

Nevertheless it was Wellesley who was in command when the army was attacked by Junot After Rolica, Wellesley had taken up a position near the village of Vimeiro, deploying his forces to hold the village and several ridges to the west which protected the landing point at Maceira Bay. Wellesley had hoped to march on Lisbon once his reinforcements had landed. He had eight infantry brigades, around two hundred and forty light cavalry and two thousand Portuguese troops, outnumbering Junot by around six thousand men.

Junot’s first move was to attempt to outflank the British by taking an unoccupied ridge to the north-east of the village. Wellesley’s men held Vimeiro and the western ridge, but he moved quickly to take the ridge ahead of Junot. Junot sent reinforcements to join the battle on the flank but made the decision to launch an attack on the village without waiting to see the outcome of his outflanking manoeuvre.

The first attack was made by Thomieres brigade who marched on the British position in column, with skirmishers and artillery in support. The British countered with four companies of riflemen from the 60th and 95th and their attack was so successful that the French skirmishers were pushed back, leaving the main French column facing the 50th regiment. At 100 yards the British opened fire while several companies began moving in towards the French flanks. The French reeled under the lethal musketry of the British infantry and were unable to deploy into line. They fled, leaving three cannons to be captured.

Shortly afterwards, Charlot’s brigade attacked Anstruther’s brigade which was hidden behind a crest and before they could deploy from column into line were struck in the flank by a second battalion which sent them fleeing in disorder from the deadly volleys. Junot sent in his grenadier reserve which was initially pushed back. Two battalions to the right managed to enter Vimeiro but were driven out by a British counterattack and then routed in flight by the light dragoons. The cavalry appear to have become carried away by their success and charged out of control, straight into the French cavalry division. They retreated to the loss of Colonel Taylor and approximately a quarter of his men.

Solignac led the French attack on the northeastern ridge, this time in a three column formation. Once again they left it too late to deploy into line and were shattered by British musket volleys and fled. Brenier’s brigade, coming up with four battalions, had some success against two British battalions who appeared unprepared after their success against Solignac. However the French were stopped by the firepower of the 29th and the two remaining battalions rallied to join them in pushing Brenier’s men back.

By the end of the battle, Sir Arthur Wellesley’s command had been superseded by Sir Harry Burrard. Burrard did not interfere with Wellesley’s conduct of the battle, but once it was done, he stepped in to prevent Wellesley pursuing the French retreat, apparently believing that Junot had troops in reserve.

Vimeiro was a welcome triumph for the British but the aftermath was a disaster. Junot offered complete surrender and was probably astonished at the terms offered by Sir Hew Dalrymple. Under the Convention of Cintra, the defeated army was transported back to France by the British navy, complete with guns, equipment and the loot it had stolen from Portugal. The Convention caused an outcry in Britain and all three generals were recalled to face an official enquiry.

Wellesley had wanted to fight on. He had signed the preliminary Armistice under orders but took no part in negotiating the Convention and did not sign it. Dalrymple appeared keen to lay the blame onto Wellesley but at the enquiry, which was held in the Great Hall at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea in November and December of 1808 all three generals were officially cleared. Wellesley, however, was returned to duty in Portugal where the British had suffered the loss of Sir John Moore at Corunna; neither Burrard or Dalrymple were given active commands again.

The battle of Vimeiro gave hope to the people of Lisbon and should have been a sharp reminder to the French that they were not invincible. Wellesley, up until this point, had been known mainly for his achievements in India and some years later Napoleon was to use the term “sepoy general” to belittle the importance of that experience. Rolica and Vimeiro, however, brought Wellesley very firmly onto the European stage and when the dust from the convention of Cintra had settled, Sir John Moore was dead and Burrard and Dalrymple were no longer considered suitable for command. The sepoy general was given his opportunity and on his return to Portugal in 1809 he was quick to prove himself worthy of it with a swift and decisive victory at Oporto.

In the Peninsular War saga, Paul van Daan is present at the battle of Vimeiro but the battle itself does not feature in An Unconventional Officer; if I’d included every battle in depth it would have been longer than the Bible. It’s an interesting battle, though, with a lot of features which have become very familiar to me as I follow Wellesley and his army through the long years of the war in Portugal and Spain. Reading about it once again on the anniversary, I find myself wondering if this early time in Portugal is something I’d like to revisit at a later stage.

The next book in the Peninsular War Saga is due for publication on 30th November 2018. It will be followed by the second book in the Manxman series the following year, which follows Captain Hugh Kelly RN through the Walcheren campaign of 1809.

A Valentine’s Day Giveaway to Romance Readers everywhere

A Valentine’s Day giveaway for 2018, for one day only there is a free promotion on Amazon kindle of four books.

A Regrettable Reputation is the first book in the Light Division romances.

A Regrettable Reputation (Book Two of the Light Division Romances)
A novel of Regency Yorkshire

Nicholas Whitham has left the army for the unexciting life of a land agent in Regency Yorkshire, but his peace is disrupted by the arrival of Miss Camilla Dorne a young lady of doubtful reputation.

The Reluctant Debutante, the second book in the series, tells the story of Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe, formerly one of Wellington’s exploring officers and Cordelia Summers, a wealthy merchant’s daughter with an independent attitude.

A Marcher Lord is a tale of love and war among the Border Reivers on the sixteenth century Anglo-Scottish borders, where a Scottish lord encounters a young Englishwoman who may or may not be a spy.

A Respectable Woman, set mostly in Victorian London, tells the unlikely love

A Respectable Woman - the history
A novel of Victorian London: book 1 in the Alverstone Saga

story of the unconventional daughter of a missionary and the British officer whose life she saved.  

All four books are free on kindle for the whole of Wednesday February 14th, why not give them a try.

And for a free sample, why not try An Impossible Attachment, a free short story of the Peninsular War written especially for Valentine’s Day…

 

An Impossible Attachment – a Peninsular War Love Story

With Valentine’s Day coming up next week, I thought I’d post an extra freebie.  An Impossible Attachment is a short story about a French prisoner-of-war in Portugal in 1812.  It’s a story in its own right although those of you who have read the Peninsular War Saga and in particular A Redoubtable Citadel, will recognise at least one of the characters and some of the background.  Please feel free to share it.

Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody…  

River Tagus, near Santarem, Portugal

British Prison Camp, Near Santarem, Portugal, 1812

He first became aware of the smell.

Second-Lieutenant Damien Cavel had served now for fourteen years since his conscription at eighteen and he was entirely accustomed to the filthy conditions of living in an army camp.  Raised in a comfortable farmhouse close to Cambrai he had loathed the army at the start but had become accustomed and then attached and had finally embraced his profession with the enthusiasm of a boy who had never wanted the legal career set out for him by his parents.  He had learned to adjust to his circumstances in whatever billet was available and living in close proximity with the men of his various companies he had ceased to notice the everyday smell of sweat and unwashed clothing.  But the stench of the British army prison camp on the edge of the Tagus surpassed everything.

He had been taken, along with most of his company, on the field of Arapiles outside Salamanca, a battle which had happened for many of the French so quickly that they were bewildered.  A bitter disappointment to Damien Cavel, newly promoted after years as a sergeant.  It was the second time in a year that he had been a prisoner of the British but the experience was very different.  The first occasion had ended in him being sent back to his army with a letter of warm recommendation from the English colonel whose wife he had saved and another from Lord Wellington.  It had led to his promotion and Damien was only just beginning to savour his new responsibilities in a company of the line before Salamanca left him wounded and then captured for a second time.  This time there was no hope of repatriation and he was sent, thrown around in a wagon because of his injuries, to this holding camp north of Lisbon, waiting for transportation to England.

He remembered nothing of the ensuing weeks, tossing and turning with pain, burning with fever and lying in cramped, damp conditions in a disused grain store.  Around him men died and were removed and replaced by others.  Damien lived although he suspected, when he was finally conscious, that there had been moments when he wished he had not.  Around him men groaned in pain or muttered with fever and there was an overpowering stench of excrement and stale urine and decaying flesh.  It made him want to gag.

“This one’s awake over here, sir,” a voice said, a harsh English voice belonging to an orderly in shabby uniform with blood staining the front of his shirt.  Footsteps sounded and then a man knelt beside Damien.

“Welcome back,” the man said.  “I thought we’d lost you.”

Damien tried to speak and nothing came out.  His mouth was dry and tasted foul.  The doctor, a tired looking man with thinning hair and red-rimmed blue eyes reached out and felt his forehead.

“Fever’s gone,” he said.  “Shelby, bring him some water.”

The orderly approached with a cup and the doctor held it while Damien drank, draining the cup.  The blue eyes were studying him.

“Do you speak any English?” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” Damien said.  English had been compulsory at the good school his father had sent him to before the war, when his parents had hoped for a career in the law, possibly leading to government service.  He had practised when he was able through the years of the war, speaking to English prisoners and occasionally to other soldiers during days of informal truce.  He remembered such a moment at Talavera when he had talked across the stream to men filling their water bottles.  But the biggest improvement had come when his company, escorting a supply column up towards Badajoz, had captured the young wife of an English colonel and he had walked beside her for more than two weeks.  There were aspects of that time that Damien could not bear to remember, but the girl herself would never leave him.  Her French needed no practice, she was fluent, but she had taken it upon herself to improve his English.  It had been a distraction from the horror of her ordeal.

“Good,” the English doctor said.  “My French is terrible.  I’ll leave you here for now…is it Lieutenant?”

“Lieutenant Cavel,” Damien said.  “My coat?”

“If you had one, it’s gone,” the doctor said.  “Let me have a look at that wound.  It was infected but we used maggots and it seems to have done the job.”

Damien lay back and the doctor drew back the thin army blanket and carefully peeled the dressing from a long wound across his midriff.  The doctor pressed gently and Damien winced and looked down.  He was slightly shocked at the length of the gash, red raw and untidily stitched but there was no smell of decay although Damien wondered if he would have been able to smell it anyway in this foul atmosphere.

“My arm?” he asked, aware of the pain.

“Shoulder wound.  Very deep, you’ll have a weakness there for a while.  Perhaps always.  You use your right or left hand?”

“Right.”

“You’re lucky then.  Cavalry sabre, I’d guess, cut you down and then slashed you across the stomach.  Ought to have killed you but he didn’t bend low enough.  I think you’ll mend.  I’ll get them to give you some food and plenty of water, you need rest.”

“What then?”

“Prison transport,” the doctor said in matter-of-fact tones.  “Back to England and then if you’ll give your parole you’ll be treated as an officer and a gentleman.  Better than most of these lads.”

“Thank you,” Damien said.  “Do you know how long?”

“Couple of weeks, maybe.  Once the transports have arrived they’ll probably take you by barge down river.  You’ll be well enough by then.  Eat and get some rest.”

“Thank you,” Damien said again.  “May I know your name?”

“Dr Bishop.  I’ll send someone up with some food.”

Two weeks was long in the prison hospital.  More men died.  Others were moved, once they were deemed well enough, to the two barns which housed the bulk of the prisoners.  Damien had no idea how much time had passed while he had been ill and was astonished to find that two months had passed since he had fallen at Salamanca and autumn had arrived.  Already the days were cooler and once he was well enough to step outside and take the air he could see that the land was turning greener after the heat of the summer months.  Vineyards were ripe and heavy with the new harvest, the peasants were busy in the olive groves and the prisoners’ bland and boring diet was supplemented a little with local chestnuts, almonds and walnuts along with oranges and apples. 

He was moved away from the fetid hospital into a small house, set aside for the officers, and given a new coat, presumably taken from a dead man and a shabby cloak against the colder evenings.  His fellow officers, all bearing the same faint sense of depression, played cards and drank wine when it was available and speculated on their chance of exchange, on conditions in England and on when, if ever, they might see their wives and families again. 

Transports arrived and the transport board sent an escort of Portuguese militia to take the prisoners by river on wide, flat bottomed barges to join the ships.  Damien went to find Dr Bishop to thank him again and the Englishman saluted and then offered his hand.

“Good luck, Lieutenant Cavel, I hope it’s a smooth voyage and an easy imprisonment.”

“You have been very kind, Doctor.  Thank you.”  Damien looked out the door at the weather.  “I do not think it will be a pleasant trip on the river.”

“No, I’m afraid not.  Probably fast though with the rain we’ve had for the past few days, the river is very high.”

It took time to load the prisoners into the boats and standing shivering on the banks watching the laborious process, Damien wondered how many of them would be ill again before they reached the transports.  He had no hat, it had been lost on the battlefield, probably looted with his coat and he pulled the thin cloak around him and waited his turn.  There were five hundred officers and men, some from Salamanca and others brought in from smaller skirmishes or just picked up in small parties.  The Portuguese militia watched them carefully.  There was none of the laughter or banter or small kindnesses that the British medical staff had shown and Damien understood why.  These men had lived under French occupation, had watched their homes burn, their food stolen and far too often their women raped.  They had no sense of kinship with the French troops and he wondered if the small contingent of British infantrymen were there to guard the prisoners or to protect them.

Huddled finally in the barge, Damien looked back as the current swirled them out with the crew steering a course to follow those already gone.  The rain was so heavy it was difficult to see the shore or indeed the other boats and he peered through the curtain of water.

“Bloody country,” Captain Bisset said beside him.  “Either it rains or it’s baking, there’s no halfway.  Perhaps England will be better.”

“Have you ever been?” Damien asked.

“I have,” an older man said.  “Spent some time there as a boy.  I liked it but the food was terrible.”

“It can’t be any worse than here,” Bisset said and there was laughter.  A Portuguese oarsman turned to glare at them and then looked back quickly at a shout from the pilot.  Damien understood no Portuguese and had never troubled to learn although he could make himself understood in Spanish.

They were moving quickly on the current, the shore no longer visible, and Damien hoped that there would be a chance to dry out before they were herded aboard the prison transports.  Ahead of him he could hear Lieutenant Giroux coughing and he wondered if the man would make it to England alive. 

The crash happened without any warning, the barge spinning in a sudden surge of water and hitting an object at great speed.  Damien had no idea what it was but there was an ominous crack of splitting wood, and a yell and then water rushed up towards him.  The barge had broken across the centre with both sides tilting crazily into the water and he could hear the cries of terror and pain of the men around him as they were pulled in to the grey torrent of the water.

Damien struggled out of the cloak, stood up on the edge of the wooden plank seat, peered through the water and then dived.  Something struck his arm hard as he hit the cold water, sending a jolt of pain through the already injured limb but he made himself ignore it and struck out strongly.  If he did not get away from the smashed wreckage of the barge quickly he was at risk of being pulled under either by the huge chunks of wood being tossed around in the water or by one of the men, struggling for their lives in the midst.  He saw, as he struggled past, what looked like the shape of an enormous tree trunk in the centre of the chaos and he supposed it had come down in the storm and been carried along in the fast current.

They were screaming some of them, helpless in the maelstrom of swirling grey water, broken barge and thrashing arms and legs.  Damien did not look back; he could do nothing to help them.  Some of them might survive if they could swim or were lucky enough to be able to catch hold of a makeshift float.  Already he could hear shouts from the barge behind following up, it’s crew trying desperately to avoid either striking the wreck and being wrecked themselves or hitting the men floundering in the water.  Above them the rain continued to fall and Damien swam, following the current at an angle towards the shore.

He had learned to swim as a boy, through long summers with his grandparents on their farm.  A river had wound its way across their land and every year one or two venturesome children were lost to drowning.  His grandfather had been determined it should not happen to him and by the time he joined the army he was a powerful swimmer.  It was not easy in this torrent, weighed down by his clothing, but if he stopped to try to remove his jacket or his boots he was afraid it would be too late.  So he relied on the strength lent to him by sheer desperation to keep himself afloat and fought his way towards the shore.

He was thrown, finally, in a muddy swirl onto a stony bank.  Steep sides rose above him and Damien, who could never remember feeling more exhausted in his life, dragged himself up and crawled on hands and knees up the bank.  Finally, the rain seemed to be easing a little and was more of a fine mist although visibility was terrible.  More than anything he wanted to lie down and give in but he knew that if the water rose again he was at risk of drowning while he was unconscious.  He used bushes, trees and rocks to scramble up the bank, feeling his way, his hands cut and bleeding on sharp edges and thorns.  And then he was there, muddy grass under him but solid ground, and he collapsed and lay still.

Damien awoke some time later.  The rain had stopped but the land was covered by a thick fog.  There was no sound now but the quiet rush of the river below.  He was soaked and shivering so much he could hardly stand, and he pushed himself up, conscious of a terrifying weakness.  Whatever had happened to the men in the water had long passed, the sky was darkening through the mist and it was evening.  If he lay where he was he would probably be dead of cold by morning.

Stumbling like a drunken man he began to make his way inland.  He had no idea where he was or how far from the British army camp but he was unlikely to be able to find his way back there in this weather.  He needed shelter; warmth was unlikely in this appalling weather but even a dry barn would be better than this.  Food would help but he could not go to some farmhouse and beg for help.  The French were so hated here that he was more likely to get his throat cut than a place by the fire. 

Damien thought that he must have been staggering for about twenty minutes although it was impossible to be sure, he had lost all sense of time, when he saw the light.  It was dim, glowing yellow through the haze.  He paused, trying to clear his head which was throbbing.  Approaching the farm was a huge risk, but if he could remain undetected he might be able to steal some food and find shelter in an outbuilding.  With rest he would be able to think more clearly and decide what to do next.

Close up, he could see a small house, whitewashed with a slate roof, crouching in the midst of a muddy farmyard.  There were several buildings nearby, a barn and what looked like a henhouse.  Damien moved forward very cautiously.  No sensible householder would be out in this weather and night was falling rapidly, but he was suspicious of every sound.

He was almost at the door of the dark barn when disaster struck.  Unsteady on his feet and in the darkness he had failed to see the long wooden shape of a broken hoe until he stepped on it.  His feet shot from under him and he uttered a cry, quickly cut off but too loud in the darkness.

It could have been heard in the house and with a lamp lit there was clearly someone at home.  Damien scrambled to his feet and made for the nearest building, a brick built structure which proved to be a tool shed.  He ducked inside and stood very still, peering out through the broken door as the door to the house opened and a figure stood silhouetted against the light.

“Cristiano, is that you?” a voice called and a shock ran through him as he realised that the voice was that of a woman and that bizarrely it was speaking English.  “Cristiano? Maria?”

There was silence in the enveloping fog and Damien’s brain, numbed by cold and pain, sprang suddenly into life.  The voice was tremulous and afraid and he knew suddenly, with complete certainty that this woman was alone here.  He stood very still, listening.  Nobody replied.  She was calling for people she knew but they were not coming and the silence made her afraid.

It changed everything.  Inside the cottage was light and probably warmth and food.  It was still a risk.  The unknown Cristiano and Maria might be close at hand, but once he was inside with this lone female it would be easier to deal with attack.  Damien closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to steady his shaking limbs and find some strength.  Then he stepped out of the shed and ran to the door of the house.

She had seen his movement and she was very quick, closing the door with a faint sound of alarm.  But desperation lent him strength and speed and he had his foot in the door before she managed it.  She wrestled with it briefly and Damien shoved hard.  The woman fell back with a cry of pain and he was inside, slamming the door behind him.  There was a wooden bar which would not hold off an army but might well keep Cristiano and Maria out for a while and Damien pushed it into place and turned, leaning his back against the door to keep himself upright and surveyed the candlelit room and his prisoner who was scrambling to her feet, her eyes on his face.

It was a shock to find that she was younger than he had expected, probably in her twenties, dressed in black.  Her hair was loose around her shoulders, long and straight and a bright red gold.  Her eyes were cat green with flecks of gold in them, wide with terror, and her skin was pale with a dusting of freckles. 

“Who are you?” she asked, but he could see her eyes on the soaked blue of his jacket and she knew the answer.  “What are you doing here?”

“Seeking shelter,” Damien said.  “Are you alone?”

She shook her head quickly.  “No.  No.  My husband is upstairs asleep but he has a pistol.  And my servants are close by…”

It was a brave try and he applauded her but the expression in her eyes showed it a lie and Damien pushed himself off the door.

“You lie to me and I will cut your throat,” he said quietly.  “I am a French prisoner – escaped, I suppose – and I am in need of food and warmth.  Do as you are told and I will not touch you.  Try to get help and I will and you will not enjoy it.  Which is it to be, Mademoiselle?”

She did not seem to be able to speak for a moment but she nodded.  Damien gave a faint smile, trying to hide his relief.  He was reasonably sure if he had tried to attack her she could have fought him off with ease and probably killed him.

“Are you alone?” he asked again.

“Yes.”  She had found her voice.

“No husband or servants?”

She shook her head.  “No.  The farmer and his wife went to Lisbon, to market.  They were going to stay with her sister.  I thought when I heard you…”

“And the husband?”

“Is dead,” she said, and this time he knew she spoke the truth.  The black velvet of her gown, trimmed at the hem and neckline with silver grey embroidery made it obvious.  It might also explain the mystery of a young Englishwoman alone in Portugal. 

“Anybody else?” he asked.

“No.  Truthfully.”  The girl’s eyes were studying him.  Suddenly she said:

“You are ill.”

Damien nodded.  “Yes.  I have been wounded and then tonight in the river…”

He broke off and stood regarding her for a moment.  Then she moved.

“Sit down, I will build up the fire.”

She moved to the fireplace, reaching for a stack of wood on the hearth and Damien moved to a wooden bench and sat down closing his eyes.  He realised he was shaking violently with reaction; partly relief at being inside in the warmth and the dry and partly a sense of shame at having threatened a frightened woman.  He knew that many of his countrymen would have seen it as a gift to find a young and attractive female alone in the cottage. Damien wished he could reassure her that she was safe.

The new heat from the fire reached him.  He heard her move across the room and opened his eyes, turning.  “Where are you going?”

She regarded him.  “There is wine in the kitchen.  And some food.”

“I will come with you.”

“You do not look as though you will make it that far…is it Captain?”

“Lieutenant Damien Cavel, Madame.”

She nodded then indicated the room with a sweep of her hand.  “You were right, I’m alone,” she said.  “In the dark and in this weather – where would I go?  May I trust you?”

“Yes,” Damien said.  “Madame, I am sorry.  I am desperate…”

She nodded.  “Wait there.”

He sat quietly, his eyes closed, savouring the warmth of the fire.  She seemed to take a long time and he wondered if, after all, she had fled.  He had no idea if there was a horse on the premises but suddenly he found it hard to care.

“Here.”

He opened his eyes, startled, and realised that he had fallen asleep.  She stood before him, holding out not, as he had expected, a plate of food but instead a bundle of clothing.

“Madame…”

“My husband’s.  You will make yourself ill if you sit around in those clothes.  I will be in the kitchen.  It is warm there, there is food.”

“Madame…”  Damien was appalled.  “I cannot use these…”

“He has no use for them now.”

She left and Damien shook out the clothing.  He stripped off his soaked clothes, dropping them in a heap on the floor and pulled on the shirt and trousers feeling almost childish pleasure in the sense of clean dry clothing.  His boots were still soaked and after a moment’s consideration he set them before the fire and draped his wet clothing over the chair then ran his hands through his dark hair and padded through to the back of the house in bare feet.

It was a typical farm kitchen, wooden beams with bundles of herbs drying, a huge fireplace with spit and a brace holding an iron pot over the flames and a long wooden table with benches either side.  Damien paused and the woman turned and indicated the table. 

“Sit,” she said.

He obeyed and she spooned stew into a bowl and brought it to him.  There was bread and a crock of butter and it smelled good; better than anything he had eaten since he had been captured at Salamanca.  He tried not to snatch at the food but he was too hungry to be delicate.  The woman watched him eat and then brought a bottle to the table and poured wine into a glass.

When the edge was taken off his hunger, Damien looked up.  “Will you sit?” he asked.  “I feel like a boor eating and drinking while you stand.”

She moved forward and collected a second glass, poured wine and sat.  “I thought you were going to cut my throat,” she said, and Damien found a smile, to his surprise.

“I was not very convincing,” he said apologetically and was astonished when she laughed.

“You were.  I was very frightened for a while.  I may be wrong, Lieutenant, but you do not look like a man who is going to hurt me.  But I do not understand how you are here.”

Damien studied the distinctive face.  “I also, Madame,” he said.  “Because you are English, are you not?”

The woman sipped the wine, watching him finish his meal.  “I am.  My name is Wentworth.  Elizabeth Wentworth.  I came out to see my husband.  He was an officer, a Captain.  Wounded at Badajoz.  He died four weeks ago of his wounds.  It took a long time.”

Damien was filled with immense sadness.  “I am so sorry, Madame.  To come so far.  But forgive me, surely you did not travel alone?”

“I had nobody to come with me,” the girl said.  “His commanding officer wrote to me.  He was very ill, too badly hurt to be moved far.  They do not usually keep officers in the hospital you know, alongside the men.  He was billeted at this farm and Maria – the farmer’s wife – had been caring for him.  I came to nurse him but it was only a few weeks…”

Damien set down his spoon and pushed the bowl away.  “Thank you,” he said quietly.  “That was so good.”

The green eyes studied him.  “I have told you why I am here.  You said you are an escaped prisoner?”

Damien smiled tiredly.  “By accident,” he said.  “It is not a very exciting story.”

“Tell me anyway,” Elizabeth Wentworth said.

Damien did so, beginning briefly with his wounding and capture at Salamanca.  She listened quietly, the green-gold eyes on his face as he told it.

When it was done he sat silent and exhausted, sipping his wine.  Eventually she said:

“What will you do now?”

“I do not know,” Damien admitted.  “I could find my way back to the prison camp.  Some of the men must have survived the river, they were probably taken there.  Another wait for transports to England.  Or I could try to make my way north to find the French army again.  Hundreds of miles through country where my army is hated and the partisans wish to kill me – probably very slowly.  And I have no news – I do not even know where we are.  The British won at Arapiles – they may have taken Madrid by now.”

“A fool’s errand,” the woman said.

“The farmer and his wife…?”

“They will want you gone,” Mrs Wentworth said.  “They hate the French.  But they took their harvest to market.  I am not expecting them back for a week at least.”

Damien was silent, studying her.  “You should not be here alone, Madame,” he said finally, quietly.  “It is too far from the town.  While your husband lived, I understand.  But now, you should find accommodation in Lisbon until you can…”

“I have no money for accommodation in Lisbon, Lieutenant,” the woman said, and suddenly she looked very young and very tired.  “What I had, I spent on the journey and caring for Charles.  The army will arrange my passage home when there are transports – they will send an escort, they have said.  This is cheaper than a room in Lisbon.”

“And when you reach England?”

“I have an aunt I can stay with for a while.  I have been living with her while Charles was out here.  Eventually, I am told there will be a small pension.  I thought I might seek a position as a governess or companion.”

“Your parents?  Or his?  Can they not…”

“My parents died some years ago.  Charles married me against his parents’ wishes, they have never accepted me.  It sounds far worse than it is, Lieutenant Cavel, I shall not starve.  But when Maria said I might remain here until I have passage home it seemed to make sense.”

“Until this evening when you might have been raped and murdered by an escaped French prisoner!” Damien said.  He felt angry that she should have been placed in that position.  “One might think this commanding officer of whom you speak would have…”

“He knows nothing of it, sir.  The regiment is in the field with Lord Wellington, I have not written of my small troubles and I shall not; I’m not a beggar.  He has written to Horse Guards about my pension and has assured me he will see that it is paid.  Beyond that, I am not his concern.”  The surprising green eyes softened slightly.  “But don’t think that I do not realise I have been lucky this evening.  Are you all right, you are shivering again?”

He had been aware of it for a while, reached for the wine and drank more.  “A fever.  I was ill for some weeks, have been better, but I think the soaking….”

Cautiously he tried to move his left arm and realised that it was agony to do so.  Elizabeth Wentworth got up.

“You are in pain,” she said.  “Come, I’ll show you where you may sleep.”

“Madame, I can sleep here.”

She did not reply, merely picked up a candle and waited.  Damien rose and followed her.  The stairs of the small farmhouse were narrow and dark and he had to stoop his tall frame to avoid hitting his head.  She did not have the same problem, she was small and slight and he thought suddenly of that other delicate-looking Englishwoman who had proved to have the strength of a lioness and found himself smiling.

There were two rooms above and she pushed open one of the doors.  “This is where Maria and Cristiano sleep.  They will know nothing about this.  Go.”

It was a bedframe, roughly made from local oak, with straps supporting a straw filled mattress and blankets and pillows neatly folded so that the bed could air.  Damien stared at it, trying to remember the last time he had slept in a bed.  He turned to see her setting the candle on a wooden chest.

“I know the French are taught to live off the land and these people – and I – are your enemies,” she said.  “Please don’t steal from them.  There is enough food and when you are ready to go you may take what you like from my husband’s clothing, he has no need of it now and he was much of a height with you.  Rest and if you need me I am sleeping in the next room.”

Damien was studying the pale face in the candlelight.  “You are not my enemy and I do not know anything of these people.  Thank you, Madame.  I hope I will be better tomorrow.  You have probably saved my life tonight.”

She gave a very slight smile.  “You have definitely spared mine, sir.”

She turned to go and Damien moved to the bed.  A blanket in his hand, he turned. 

“Do you miss him very much?”

Elizabeth Wentworth stood framed in the crooked doorframe.  “No,” she said, surprising him.  “Although I could only admit that to a complete stranger such as yourself.  How can I miss a man I barely knew?  I was seventeen when we eloped and I had known him for two months then.  He was handsome and dashing and I thought I loved him.  He was also about to join his regiment to sail to Portugal with Sir John Moore.  I was settled in lodgings and I waved him off proudly.  That was four years ago.  I have not seen him since.  He wrote me a total of ten letters during that time.  He sent me money occasionally but not enough, I have survived teaching music and drawing and running errands for wealthy widows.  And on the occasional gift from my poor aunt who can ill afford it herself.  His family do not receive me and would not even lend me money to travel here when I had word that he was so badly wounded.  And when I arrived to nurse him, he was delirious and barely recognised me.  He was also riddled with the pox, so I imagine that he had not missed me either.”

“Oh no,” Damien said softly, his own misery forgotten.  “Oh cherie, I am so sorry.  To come so far and for that.  He did not deserve you.”

His compassion seemed to startle her.  “You don’t know me, Lieutenant.  How do you know what I deserve?”

“No woman deserves that, Madame Wentworth.  Thank you.  Goodnight.”

Farm of Cristiano and Maria Guedes, Portugal, 1812

The bedrooms were cold compared to the heat of the rooms below. Elizabeth went down to bank the kitchen fire and extinguish lamps and candles, taking one up to the tiny box room which she had occupied since coming to Santarem.  She removed the black mourning gown and took off her stays then wrapped a thick robe around her and got into the narrow bed.  Four weeks ago Charles had breathed his last in this bed and she had stripped and washed the linen herself, not wanting to make more work for Maria who had been kind enough already.  She sensed that they wanted her gone once her husband had been buried but they were too good to say so.  Their trip to Lisbon had been a regular necessity to sell the produce of the small farm but she suspected they would remain with their family for as long as they could.  She had been told that a passage would be available for her within the month and the Lisbon quartermaster would send one of his men with a cart to escort her to the ship with her small trunk. 

Elizabeth had not liked being left alone at the farm, but it had also been a relief.  She had grown up in the country and had willingly agreed to feed the few animals and take care of the house.  It was the least she could do to repay their kindness since their last farmhand had left to join the Portuguese army eight months ago and there was no other help locally.  Feeding the goats and milk cow and chickens occupied little of her time.  She wrote letters, one to her aunt accepting her generous offer of a bed in her own small house until she might make other arrangements and another to Charles Wentworth’s family, telling them of his death and his burial.  They would probably not respond but Elizabeth would have known she had done the right thing.

There was a small sum of money, raised through auctioning Captain Wentworth’s personal possessions, and a one-armed Major of the cavalry had ridden out to give her the money.  She had seen his eyes brighten at finding the widow young and personable and she suspected that if she had given him the slightest encouragement he would have ridden out again but she did not.  Four years of marriage to a soldier had convinced Elizabeth that if she did ever marry again it would not be to a man in a red coat.

She wondered if the French officer was married.  Once the initial terror had eased, she had found nothing threatening in the tall, slender dark haired man with steady grey eyes.  Any fear of him harming her had vanished very quickly.  Four years alone had accustomed Elizabeth to all manner of impertinences from men who very clearly believed that a woman whose husband had been away for so long must welcome their attentions and she had grown very good at sensing danger.  She sensed no threat from the exhausted Frenchman with the surprisingly good grasp of English and in practical terms his presence here for a few days might keep her safe.  It was improper for her to be staying in a deserted cottage unchaperoned with him sleeping in the next room but since nobody would ever know of it, it could hardly hurt her reputation.

She slept finally, waking as the dawn filtered through the badly fitting shutters at the small window and rose to dress.  The black velvet gown was the only mourning she possessed, saved from the death of her mother several years earlier and she would not wear it about the farm.  Instead she donned the practical green wool and the sturdy boots and bundled her hair up into a knot then went down to build up the fire in the kitchen before going outside into a fresh dry dawn with the promise of a sunny day to begin the chores of the farm.

When she came back inside later, hungry and ready for breakfast she was faintly surprised not to see the French officer already down.  She had moved his jacket and boots into the kitchen to dry properly and bundled up the soaked, filthy linen to be laundered.  Now she took off her cloak and went up to her room.  There was a box under the bed which contained the remains of her husband’s clothing and she unpacked it, piling it up neatly folded.  She had not given the clothing to be sold with the rest of Charles’ effects.  It had little value and she had thought she might give it to Cristiano when she left as thanks for his hospitality.  Now she carried the small pile, a couple of shirts, some underclothing, woollen stockings and a spare pair of serviceable grey trousers to the other door and knocked. 

There was no reply.  Elizabeth knocked again and then pushed the door open very cautiously.

“Lieutenant Cavel?  Are you awake?  I have brought…”

The sight of him on the bed froze the words.  He had thrown off the blankets in the night and lay uncovered still dressed in the shirt and trousers she had given him.  They were soaked with sweat and his face was flushed and burning.  He did not appear conscious and Elizabeth dropped the clothing onto the chest and ran forward.

“Oh lord,” she said, feeling the burning damp of his forehead.  “Lieutenant?  Mr Cavel, can you hear me?”

The eyes opened, staring at her in confusion and he spoke in French.  Elizabeth spoke enough of the language to be able to teach children the basics but his rapid words made no sense to her.  It did not matter.  He was ill and it was clear that after four weeks of exhausting nursing, she was going to have to go through the process again.  She felt a stab of resentment at the thought and then she sighed and turned to find the discarded bedclothes.  She could hardly leave him like this.

The routine was familiar by now and resigned, she fell quickly into the pattern of caring for a fever patient; washing him, changing the bed sheets, changing his clothing and patiently spooning water and other liquids between his dry cracked lips.  The fever burned fiercely for three days and Elizabeth wondered if, like Charles, he had already been weakened too much by his wounds and his previous illness to survive.  But unlike Charles he was clearly a fit and healthy man in all other ways and on the fourth day he slept more easily, his body no longer racked by violent shivering and his brow cool and dry. 

Elizabeth sat beside the bed, watching him.  Like this he appeared younger than she had first thought, probably no more than thirty or so although his contained manner had made him seem older.  She was twenty-two herself and had been told often that she seemed older than her years, which was less flattering to a woman than a man.  Once again she wondered if he had a wife waiting for him back in France.  She suspected that the answer was yes, there had been a name he had mentioned more than once in his fevered ramblings and she hoped that Anne, whoever she was, appreciated this unassuming man.

He awoke properly late into the evening.  Elizabeth had brought the lamp from the kitchen into his room and settled herself to mend one of the shirts she had washed.  She was wrapped in her shawl; the heat from the kitchen barely filtered up to the bedrooms.  Seeing him stir she looked up and into bewildered grey eyes.

“Madame Wentworth.  What in God’s name are you doing here?”

Elizabeth smiled and got up, putting down her sewing.  “You’re awake.  That’s good.  And you have also remembered your English which is even better because you have made me realise how rusty my French has become these past days.  Wait there, I will bring you a warm drink now that you can taste it properly.”

She left him and when she returned he had managed to pull himself into a sitting position.  Elizabeth handed him the cup of milk with honey and a little brandy and watched him sip it.

“This is very good, thank you.  My throat is so dry.  How long have I been ill?”

“This is the fourth day.”

His eyes widened in surprise.  “I’ve been here four days?  I need to leave tomorrow, the farmer and his wife are going to be back…”

“No, they are not,” Elizabeth said calmly.  “I received a message from Maria yesterday to tell me they will be at least another week.  Her sister has just given birth and they are staying to help and for the baptism.  Senor Dias, who has a farm eight miles further up river stopped by on his way back from Lisbon to tell me.”

“Leaving you here alone?”

“I think they are making the most of a holiday.  They farm this place alone, you know, they must seldom have the opportunity to leave it because of the animals.  All their farmhands left to join the army or the militia.  I suppose that with the harvest brought in and taken to market there is little to do here.  And I am happy to help them, they were very good to me when Charles was dying.  In a few weeks I shall be gone but I will always remember how kind to me the people of Portugal were.  Do you feel able to eat some broth?”

“Thank you.  I am not sure they would be so kind if they knew you were harbouring an escaped French prisoner.”

“They have no need to know.  And you have no need to leave until you are a little stronger.  I’ll bring the broth.”

She returned with it and found him holding the half mended shirt.  “You are mending my clothes.”

“It was badly torn.”

“And you have also changed them.  I was not wearing this nightshirt when I got into bed that night.”

Elizabeth flushed slightly and dropped her eyes.  “I could not leave you as you were, you were shivering.  I am sorry…”

“Do not apologise, Madame, you have probably saved my life.  Again.  I am sorry to have been such a charge on you.  I will leave as soon as I am able.”

“You have been less trouble than my husband, sir.  Are you…do you have a wife at home?”

He smiled.  “No.  I was young when I joined, have been in the army all my adult life.  No time to marry.”

“I wondered.  There was a name you mentioned when you were ill.  Who is Anne?”

She saw his eyes flicker in surprise.  “Anne?  Oh.  I must have been dreaming, I suppose.”

“An old love or a current sweetheart?” Elizabeth said lightly, teasing, but he did not smile, shook his head as if trying to clear it.

“Neither.  A woman I liked very much.”

“I am sorry, I have no right to pry.”

“No, it is not that.  I am ashamed to tell you the story; it reflects so badly on some of my countrymen.  But then you must know, I am sure, if you have talked to your hosts, that the French are hated for a reason.”

Elizabeth nodded, studying him.  She wondered if she wanted to know.  After a moment he said:

“I was still a sergeant, posted to a troop escorting supplies.  Dull and often dangerous but essential.  We had a new commander – a colonel of cavalry, Colonel Dupres.  It was odd for a man of his rank to be given such a lowly posting and we all assumed it was a punishment of some kind.”

“And was it?”

“Yes.  He had behaved very rashly, more than once, putting his men at risk without need because he felt some sense of rivalry with an English colonel of light infantry.  They had clashed several times on the field and Dupres had lost and men had died.  During the months I served under him I came to loathe him.  He was a thief, looting houses and churches.  He was a brute to local people in Portugal and Spain.  Not just taking food and supplies; we all do that.  But he would kill for sport and torture for fun.  And he was a rapist.  Any local girl he came across.”

“Oh no,” Elizabeth said softly.

“He was in command and many of the men followed him willingly.  War makes beasts of so many, Madame.  But there was a skirmish with a group of Spanish partisans and a small English escort, taking supplies up from Lisbon.  We captured the English and killed many of the Spanish.  The others fled.  There was a woman with them – a young Englishwoman.  She gave him her name, thinking she would be released as an officer’s wife.  She was married to the colonel he hated.”

Elizabeth watched the shuttered expression on his face and wished she had not asked.  “You don’t have to tell me any more.”

Damien gave a tight smile.  “You will have guessed, I imagine.  He slaughtered the remains of her escort in front of her and he took her with us on the march.  For two weeks I watched him brutalise her.  You do not want the details.  Some of us tried to help her as much as we could and tried desperately to think of a way to get her free.”

“Did he kill her?” Elizabeth whispered.  She was cold with horror, her own vulnerability out here suddenly real all over again.  He shook his head.

“No, although eventually I think he would have.  He was…he became obsessed with her.  Would not release her.  But the partisans had taken word back to the Allied lines and we were attacked one night by half a battalion of light infantry.  They went through our men as if we were raw recruits.  Dupres survived the battle but her husband challenged him when he realised what had been done to her and killed him.”

“Is that how you were taken prisoner?”

“No.  She spoke for us, my captain and I, to Lord Wellington.  The rest were sent to be transported but we were released to go back to the French lines with a letter of thanks and recommendation for what we had done for her.  I was promoted and so was he.  Then I fought at a battle just outside Salamanca and was wounded and taken again.”

“I am sorry, Lieutenant.  Was she all right?”

He gave a little smile.  “I think so.  Hard for any woman to endure what she did, but she was unusual.  And so was he.  I have seen many men in love before but I do not think I have ever seen a man so enamoured as he.  I hope they did well.  I have seen death and horror.  And rape, since many of our troops see nothing wrong with it.  But that stayed with me.  I got to know her and I don’t think I could ever close my eyes to it again after that.”

He had finished the broth almost without noticing it and she took the bowl from him gently.  “I think you are a good man, Lieutenant.  Try to sleep again now.  No need to dream horrors about her, she sounds very well taken care of.  But you have reminded me of how lucky I have been.  Goodnight.”

Elizabeth was surprised at how quickly the Frenchman seemed to recover from his fever.  He was up within two days, moving slowly around the house, washing himself and dressing and doing what he could to help her.  After four days he was outside with her in the crisp autumn air, carrying the feed bucket and hunting for eggs.  She found, to her surprise, that she enjoyed the company.  He did not talk a great deal but his silences were restful and she felt comfortable with them.

During the evenings they would sit in the kitchen to save lighting two fires and she finished mending his clothing and watched, with some surprise, as he expertly patched the soles of his boots.  She quickly realised that life on a farm was as familiar to him as it was to her, and he began, without asking, to effect small repairs about the place as if he, like her, felt a sense of obligation to the absent farmer and his wife whose hospitality was keeping him warm and fed.

He did not speak again of leaving and at the end of another week, Elizabeth felt the need to raise it.  Autumn would soon move into winter and the farmer and his wife would return.  She was daily expecting a message about her own passage home and was somewhat shocked to realise how little she wanted to go. 

They had finished their evening meal and he got up to wash the pottery bowls and stack them to dry.  Elizabeth was amused at the action.  She suspected that Charles would never have thought to do it; he had remained a gentleman by instinct, waiting for a servant to clear up after him.  His occasional letters had been full of grumbles about the lack of good orderlies and servants.  Her own years of near poverty had taught her to manage most things alone, with a local woman coming in daily to do the heavy cleaning and she was an excellent cook.

“You cook very well, Madame, I am being ruined for army fare,” the Frenchman said, echoing her thoughts.  Elizabeth smiled.

“I enjoy cooking.  Lieutenant Cavel, have you decided yet what you are going to do?  I do not mean to hurry you, but…”

Damien collected a bottle of wine and seated himself again.  He poured for both of them.  “I am telling myself that my work around the farm will make up for my free use of my unwilling host’s wine cellar,” he said.  “It is very good; does he make it himself?”

“It is made in the village.  They all contribute the grapes and share out the wine.  Is this not what you call living off the land, Lieutenant?”

“It is too comfortable for that,” Damien said, laughing.  “And in answer to your question, Madame, yes, I have decided.  I am going to make my way back over the river and east towards Cadiz.  I have no idea where I’ll find Marshal Soult’s army – or if I will – but I think it is the best choice.”

“Or you could surrender and go to England,” Elizabeth said suddenly.  She had not meant to say it, but his words conjured up the reality; hundreds of miles of lonely marching without a weapon or an ally, through hostile countryside with no sure knowledge of where he might find his compatriots.  “If the partisans catch you, they’ll kill you.  And even the British might shoot you as a spy.  It is a mad idea, Lieutenant, and I do not want you to do it!”

He smiled then, one of his rare broad smiles which made his face that of a boy again.  “Madame, I am sorry.  But I am a French soldier – I have been for fourteen years – and it is my duty to get myself back and fight for my emperor.  As your husband would have done if he could.  But thank you for your concern.”

Elizabeth got up.  She was fighting back tears.  “You will get yourself killed!” she said furiously, walking over to the fire.  “And I do not want to know about it!  Go if you must.  I will remain here until Cristiano and Maria return and then…”

She heard him move and did not look around.  Unexpectedly she felt his hands on her shoulders.  “Stop it,” he said firmly.  “I am not leaving until I am sure they are back.  Or until a man in a red coat arrives to take you to the ship.  I am not leaving you alone here.”

“It is not your problem, Lieutenant.”

“My name is Damien, cherie.  We probably only have another few days here and nobody will hear you use it.  Please.”

Elizabeth turned into his arms.  “Did she teach you your English?” she asked, fighting the completely irrational sense of jealousy.

Damien laughed.  “I already knew some, but she taught me a lot more.  I think it helped to take the mind off the pain.  Do not look so cross, Elizabeth Wentworth.  She would be very happy to see me practising it on you.  May I kiss you?”

Elizabeth’s cheeks were wet with tears.  She reached up to cup his face with one hand and found that it too was damp.  “I do wish you would,” she said.

They spoke little afterwards, having said all that they could.  There was no way that she could persuade him and she understood it.  If he were a man to take the safe and easy way, he would not be the man he was.

***

Damien had not meant it to end this way although he quickly realised, with rueful tenderness that on this occasion it was not going to be his decision alone.  She moved around the room as she always did at the end of the evening, blowing out candles with housewifely care as he banked the fire and checked the door and shutters.  It was a still, cold night and he followed her up the stairs and was startled as she turned not left into her own little room but right into the main bedroom where he had been sleeping.  She set the candle down on the chest and turned to him, the green-gold of her eyes bright on his.

“We have so little time left,” she said.  “And this may be all we ever have.  I am not wasting it on propriety and morality.”

Damien looked at her for a long time.  “And if you bear a child?” he asked.

“Then I will tell them it was my husband’s.  A last and joyous gift.  Nobody but I need know that he could not have done so.”

It quashed the last of his scruples although he was amused, as he moved to take her into his arms, to realise that she had thought of that well before this moment.  He had been neatly ambushed by an English force and not for the first time.  On this occasion there was no thought of fighting back and he let her draw him to the bed, into her arms and into joy without a moment of regret.

They lived the next three days in each other’s arms, leaving the bedroom only to eat and to perform the necessary chores of living.  If this was to be all they had, he understood her need to savour it, simply to hold him.  They talked, when they were not making love, telling details of their lives and families, of their history.  He whispered endearments to her in French and taught her their meaning and she made him laugh when she used them back to him.  They slept little, waking wrapped together in the big bed, not feeling the cold of approaching winter in each other’s arms.  It was as though they had known each other for many years; as though these past weeks had been just the culmination of a growing attachment instead of the madness it really was.  He had not wanted to fall in love with her and he had prayed that she would not fall in love with him; it could bring only pain to both of them, but it was far too late for such careful common sense.

Halfway through the third day he awoke to an unfamiliar sound and realised suddenly that it was the approach of a horse.  He was abruptly alert again after days of simple happiness but she was quicker even than he, scrambling out of bed, wrapping a blanket about her and running to the window.

“Is it the farmer back?”

“No, it is Major Callen.  I imagine with news of the transport.  Stay here.”

She scrambled into her black dress, frantically combing out her hair and then went down to open the door with the red gold mass loose about her shoulders.  Damien dressed quickly and quietly, hoping that the major was not a perceptive man.  His love looked very different to the thin, sad widow he had encountered three weeks ago on a foggy evening.

When he was dressed he moved quietly to the door.  Both voices were clearly audible in the tiny cottage.

“We’ll send a gig, ma’am, can borrow it from the commissariat, easier to bring your boxes that way.”

“I don’t have much, Major, but thank you, it is kind.”

“Won’t be until the day after tomorrow but it’ll give you plenty of time to make the transport.  It’s a fast boat, sailing into Portsmouth, and there will be two other ladies on board, wives going home, so you’ll have female company.  Once you’re there, I understand a carriage has been arranged to take you to your family.”

“My aunt lives in Winchester, sir, it’s not that far.  Did you arrange this?”

“No, ma’am.  Although I would have.  I understand it was your husband’s brigade commander.  He has also been on about your pension, hurrying them along.”

“In the middle of a campaign that is so good of him, Major.”

“He’ll have had some time, ma’am.  Light division have been in Madrid for a couple of months, I understand.  And he’s got a good reputation for taking care of his officers and men.”

“I am grateful.  I’ll write to him when I am home to thank him.  Major, thank you.  I am a little worried about the farm – I’ve been taking care of the animals while the farmer is in Lisbon.”

“No need, ma’am.  I’ll leave one of my lads here until they get back.  Don’t worry, he’ll behave himself.”

“Thank you.  I’ll make sure I’m ready.”

Damien was amused, through his sadness, at the major’s evident reluctance to leave.  He did so finally and when the horse was out of sight, Damien put on his boots and went downstairs.  She turned to look at him and he saw that she was crying.

“Oh ma mie.  Come here.”

She flew into his arms and he held her close, murmuring endearments as she cried.  There was little that either of them could say that had not already been said.

He moved through the next day like a ghost, helping her to pack and making sure the farm was secure and the animals in good condition.  She had his clothing neatly washed and mended and had fashioned a bag out of old flour sacks for him to carry spares and food, slung across his back like a satchel.  It was surprisingly effective and probably more comfortable than the worn out pack he had been used to.

They spent the night wakeful in each other’s arms and he thought, holding her close after making love, that if he never saw her again this moment would stay with him forever; the moment he knew without the slightest doubt that he loved her.

“Elizabeth?”

“Yes, love?”

“Your aunt lives in Winchester, does she not?”

“Yes.  I will probably look for lodgings nearby.  She is the only family I have.”

“What is her direction?”

She twisted her head to look at him.  “Her direction?  She lives close to the Cathedral; my uncle was a cleric there.  I can give you details…but why, Damien?”

Damien kissed her very gently.  “I may not survive this war,” he said.  “I may not even survive the next month.  But if I do…one day I would like to come back to you, cherie.  If you think…?”

Her mouth stopped his, the kiss leaving him breathless.  “Yes,” she said.  “I know it will probably never happen.  But Damien – I won’t stop hoping.  If I have a child…what were your parents’ names?”

“My father was Damien also.  My mother was Colette.”

“Thank you.  Both very good names.”

He wondered if this much heartache had ever killed a man and then laughed at his own melodrama.  It was not like him and no man had ever died of a broken heart.  But he had never realised before how much it hurt.  “I love you,” he said, very softly.

“I love you too, Damien Cavel.  Never forget it, will you?”

“Never.  Take care of yourself, Elizabeth Wentworth.  And our child, if there is one.  If I live, I will see you again one day.”

He left early, not wanting to risk being caught by the arrival of her military escort.  She remained upstairs, watching him from the bedroom window.  At the edge of the big barn, on his way down towards the river and the ford, he turned and saw her standing there, already dressed in her mourning black.  She looked beautiful in it, the warm colour of her hair framing her pale face.  This far away he could not see her tears but he knew they were there, reached up to touch his own wet cheeks.  Then he turned and walked on into the bright sunlit morning.

Freneida, Portugal, January 1813

“Letters, sir.”

Colonel Paul van Daan gave a theatrical groan as his orderly limped into the room and deposited a large pile of mail onto the table.  “Take them away!” he ordered.  “I spend half my bloody time either reading or replying to letters, none of which is helping us win this war.  I need a secretary!”

His wife looked up from the small table on the far side of the room where she was running through a list of medical supplies and fixed him with an arctic glare.  “I beg your pardon?”

Paul grinned.  “Sorry, love, I know you’re better than any clerk.  But honestly, look at this lot.”

Anne van Daan got up, stepped around the basket where her newest child dozed in a patch of winter sunlight like a well-fed cat, and went to sort through the pile.  “Major Breakspear can deal with half of these,” she said.  “This is from your father, hopefully giving us a date for his arrival.  Those are for some of the other officers – Jenson, can you drop them over please.  And this…I’ve no idea.”

Her blank tone made him look up again.  “For me?”

“For me,” Anne said.  He watched as she opened the somewhat grubby folded sheet.  There was another letter enclosed, folded and sealed.  Anne scanned the missive and the expression on her face made him smile.

“Well clearly that’s not just another delay in the uniform order,” he said.  “What is it, love?”

Anne looked up.  “It is from Damien Cavel,” she said blankly.

Paul raised his eyebrows.  “Cavel?  Sergeant Cavel?”

“Captain Cavel apparently.  Currently serving in Marshal Soult’s army although he doesn’t say where.”

“Well he wouldn’t, would he?” Paul said.  “May I see?  Is it personal?”

“Not to me,” Anne said.  She handed him the letter, looking down at the other one in her hand.  “He is asking me to convey this letter to an Englishwoman living in Winchester.”

Paul read the letter twice and then looked at Anne.  “He says he wants her to know that he is safe.  A love affair?”

“I’m guessing so although don’t ask me how!  Paul, what in God’s name are we going to do?”

Paul met her eyes and shook his head regretfully.  “We can’t, bonny lass, although I’d like to.  You know how grateful I am for what he and his captain did for you last year.  But we’ve no idea what this contains.  I’m sorry, but it’s for the intelligence service.”

Anne studied him for a long time.  “All right,” she said finally.  “Give it to George Scovell.  He can do what he likes with any information in it, but we can trust him to be discreet about it; we can’t have this poor woman’s name shared with half the army.”

“If Cavel has been as careful in her letter as he is in this one there won’t be anything useful anyway.  But this could be some kind of cipher, George will have to see it.”

“Will you take it up to him or shall I?”

“I’ll do it; I need to ride over to see Lord Wellington later anyway.  Where’s Manson?”

“Practicing dry firing with the light company I think.”

“He can come with me.”

Paul made to tuck the letter into his pocket and his wife said:

“Will you do something for me, Paul?”

Paul studied her with some misgiving.  “What?”

“Leave that on the desk and go and find Leo yourself, will you?”

“Nan.  You can’t…”

“I’m not going to copy it directly.  I’m going to see what it says and write to her myself.”

“You think this is genuine?”

“Yes,” Anne said.  “I know Damien Cavel, Paul.  He’s not an intelligencer, he doesn’t have the temperament any more than you do.  If he’s managed to get a letter to me about this girl it’s because it means everything to him.  And I owe him my life.”

After a moment, Paul nodded.  “You’ve got half an hour.  Seal it again properly, will you?”

His wife smiled sweetly.  “Do you think I would not?”

“No.  You do have the temperament to be an intelligencer.  Oh – what’s the girl’s name, it doesn’t say it here?”

“Wentworth.  Mrs Elizabeth Wentworth, a Winchester address.”

Paul blinked in surprise.  “Wentworth.  I know who that is.  She’s the widow of Captain Charles Wentworth – he used to be with the 43rd but transferred over to the 112th just before Fuentes d’Onoro.  He was badly wounded at Badajoz, sent back to Lisbon but died of his wounds.  I didn’t know him that well but I’d heard his widow came out to nurse him.  I wrote a few letters, chased up her pension and helped with transport home.”

“Pretty?” Anne asked.  Paul laughed.

“No idea, bonny lass, I’ve never set eyes on her.  It rather sounds as though Cavel has, though.  She’s a real person and she was definitely out here which makes this unlikely romance a bit more plausible.  Get it done and I know nothing about it.”

He left the room and stood outside for a moment, then looked back in.  She had unsealed the second letter and was reading it.  He saw her lips curve in a smile and he found himself smiling as well.  After a moment she sat down, reached for her pen and drew a sheet of paper towards her to send the good tidings to a woman she did not know.

 

 

 

 

The Peninsular War Saga

Beginning in 1802, the Peninsular War Saga tells the story of the men and women of the 110th Infantry during the wars against Napoleon, and in particular the story of Paul van Daan who joins the regiment as a young officer and rises through the ranks in Wellington’s army.

In a linked series, the Light Division romances, we follow the fortunes of some of the men of the 110th into peacetime.  Two books have been published so far, A Regrettable Reputation and The Reluctant Debutante

A second linked series, about a Manx naval officer, begins with An Unwilling Alliance, due to be published in April 2018 and tells the story of Captain Hugh Kelly of HMS Iris, Major Paul van Daan of the 110th infantry and the Copenhagen campaign of 1807.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer (Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga: 1802 – 1810)

It is 1802, and two new officers arrive at the Leicestershire barracks of the 110th infantry just in time to go to India.  Sergeant Michael O’Reilly and Lieutenant Johnny Wheeler have seen officers come and go and are ready to be unimpressed.  Neither of them have come across an officer like Lieutenant Paul van Daan.

Arrogant, ambitious and talented, Paul van Daan is a man who inspires loyalty, admiration and hatred in equal measure.  His unconventional approach to army life is about to change the 110th into a regiment like no other.

The novel follows Paul’s progress through the ranks of the 110th from the bloody field of Assaye into Portugal and Spain as Sir Arthur Wellesley takes command of the Anglo-Portuguese forces against Napoleon.  There are many women in Paul’s life but only two who touch his heart.

Rowena Summers, a shy young governess who brings him peace, stability and lasting affection.

Anne Carlyon, the wife of a fellow officer who changes everything Paul has ever believed about women.

As Europe explodes into war, an unforgettable love story unfolds which spans the continent and the years of the Peninsular War and changes the lives of everyone it touches.

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment ( Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga: September 1810 – April 1811 )

It is 1810 and Major Paul van Daan and the 110th prepare to meet the French on the ridge of Bussaco in Portugal. Back on the battlefield only two weeks after his scandalous marriage to the young widow of Captain Robert Carlyon, Paul is ready for the challenge of the invading French army.

But after a successful battle, Lord Wellington has another posting for his most unorthodox officer and Paul and Anne find themselves back in Lisbon dealing with a whole new set of challenges with army supplies, new recruits and a young officer who seems to represent everything Paul despises in the army’s views on discipline and punishment. Anne is getting used to life as the wife of a newly promoted regimental colonel as two other women join the regiment under very different circumstances. And an old adversary appears in the shape of Captain Vincent Longford whose resentment at serving under Paul is as strong as ever.

It’s a relief to return to the field but Paul finds himself serving under the worst General in the army in a situation which could endanger his career, his regiment and his life.  Given a brief by Wellington which requires Paul to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is waiting for Wellington’s most headstrong colonel to fail dismally at last…

 

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro
An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro

An Uncommon Campaign (Book 3 of the Peninsular War Saga: April – June 1811)

Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida. As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is becoming accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and managing the resentment of other officers at his promotion over older and longer serving men. His young wife is carrying their first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities. And if that was not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during the days of the battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally, with potentially lethal consequences for the 110th and the rest of the third brigade of the light division.

A Redoubtable Citadel (Book of the Peninsular War Saga: January – June 1812)

In the freezing January of 1812, Lord Wellington pushes his army on to the fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo and a bloody siege with tragic consequences. Colonel Paul van Daan and his wife Anne have a baby son and in the aftermath of the storming, take a brief trip to Lisbon to allow Paul’s family to take little William back to England. With his career flourishing and his marriage happy, Paul has never felt so secure. But his world is shattered when his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a personal grudge against Paul. As Wellington’s army begins the siege of Badajoz, the other great Spanish border fortress, his scouts and agents conduct a frantic search for the colonel’s wife. Meanwhile Anne van Daan is in the worst danger of her life and needs to call on all her considerable resources to survive, with no idea if help is on the way.

An Untrustworthy Army (Book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga: June – November 1812)

Back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the Third Brigade of the Light Division. Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the Light Division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos. But the end of the campaigning season is not going as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat. At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, will Colonel van Daan’s legendary brigade manage to hold together and get themselves back to safety? (To be published in July 2018)

An Unrelenting Enmity (Book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga:  December 1812 – April 1813)

Wellington’s army is in winter quarters, licking it’s wounds after the retreat from Burgos. In the 110th and the rest of the Third Brigade, however, morale is high. Anne van Daan has successfully given birth to her second child and there is time for a trip to Lisbon to see the rest of the children. Things take a turn for the worse when a new commander is appointed to the 115th serving under Paul, a man who represents everything that Wellington’s most unconventional brigade commander despises. In addition, the new Major has a history with Sergeant Jamie Hammond which looks likely to set off a major explosion in the 110th. (To be published in December 2018)

An Uncivilised Storming (Book 7 of the Peninsular War Saga:  May- October 1813)

Lord Wellington leads his army into northern Spain. With a better supply train and a new determination the Anglo-Portuguese army are about to make a push to cross the Pyrenees and invade France. Wellington’s army, including Colonel Paul van Daan and the Third Brigade of the Light Division face the French at Vitoria win a comprehensive victory. There follows an exhausting series of battles as Marshal Soult tries desperately to rally his forces and push the English back. Weary of battle, Paul is appalled when he arrives in time to witness the sacking of San Sebastian by the Allied troops, an atrocity which makes him question his place in the British army. (To be published in April 2019)

An Inexorable Invasion (Book 8 of the Peninsular War Saga:  October 1813 – February 1814)

Wellington’s army is invading France. After almost five years of advancing and retreating across Portugal and Spain, Colonel Paul van Daan and his brigade are about to set foot on French soil, the first time many of them have ever done so. At the battles of the Bidassoa and the Nivelle, the men of the light division are at the forefront of the action as Wellington ruthlessly presses home his advantage. But behind the scenes, the European powers are negotiating for Bonaparte’s abdication and the end of hostilities and the disappearance of Sir Henry Grainger, British diplomat and intelligence agent sends Captain Michael O’Reilly and Sergeant Jamie Hammond with a small force into hostile country on a mission which could lead to peace – or cost them their lives. (To be published in August 2019)

An Improbable Abdication (Book 9 of the Peninsular War Saga:  March 1814 – January 1815)

Wellington’s army is in France, marching inexorably towards victory. An inconclusive engagement at Toulouse is cut unexpectedly short when the news comes in that Napoleon Bonaparte has abdicated and that France has surrendered. With war finally over, Colonel Paul van Daan and his battered and exhausted men are bound for England and a round of celebrations and gaiety which Colonel van Daan could do without.  While the crowned heads of Europe are feted in London, honours and promotions abound and Anne and Paul find themselves learning how to live a normal life again with their children around them. The light division is broken up with it’s various regiments sent to other duties and Lord Wellington, now a Duke, is despatched to Vienna to represent Britain in the complex peace negotiations which threaten to try his patience almost as much as Marshal Massena. But the early months of 1815 bring shocking news… (To be published in December 2019)

An Unmerciful Engagement (Book 10 of the Peninsular War Saga:  Waterloo 1815)

For Paul and Anne van Daan, domestic bliss has been interrupted long before they had grown used to it. Bonaparte is loose and with the light division disbanded and many of it’s crack regiments dispersed to other theatres of war around the globe, Wellington needs to pull together an army from the allied nations of Europe. His Peninsular army no longer exists but he still has Paul van Daan and the 110th. Promoted to General, Paul is on his way to Brussels and to a battle far worse than anything he has yet experienced. (To be published in June 2020)

An Amicable Occupation (Book 11 of the Peninsular War Saga:  1815 – 1818 the Army of Occupation)

With the horrors of Waterloo behind him, Paul van Daan is in France commanding a division of the Army of Occupation under Wellington. It is a whole new experience for the officers and men of the 110th, learning to live beside the men they fought against for six long and painful years.

A Civil Insurrection (Book 12 of the Peninsular War Saga: Yorkshire 1819)

Back in England finally, the 110th have settled back into barracks and are enjoying a rare spell of peace when trouble in the industrial towns of the North sends them to Thorndale, Anne’s home city where her father and other mill owners are under threat from what looks like a revival of the Luddite movement. After many years of fighting the French the men of the 110th are faced with a new challenge which might see them pitted against their own countrymen. (To be published in December 2020)

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Bevan – a Peninsular War Tragedy

Fortress at Almeida

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Bevan is one of the many tragedies of the Peninsular War and a story which I found particularly sad.  There were so many deaths in battle or from wounds or sickness, but in the middle of it, Colonel Bevan took his own life over a matter of honour.

Bevan served in the 28th foot in Egypt, Copenhagen, Walcheren and then in the Peninsula.  He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in January 1810 and appointed initially to command the second battalion, 4th foot and then the following year moved to the first battalion in the Peninsula.

After the Battle of Fuentes d’Onoro on 2nd May, 1811, the French Commander Messena ordered the besieged garrison at Almeida under General Brennier to break out to the north-west and rejoin the French forces via the bridge at Barba del Puerco over the river Agueda. Wellington had been expecting such a move and sent orders to General Sir William Erskine to extend his fifth division northward as far as the bridge at Barba del Puerco by sending the 4th Foot to the bridge itself.  Meanwhile, Campbell’s sixth division and Pack’s Brigade were to continue the investment of Almeida. The orders were sent out by 2 p.m. on the 10th and reached Erskine at his Headquarters by about 4 p.m. Erskine claimed to have sent the orders immediately to the 4th Foot at Val de Mula but it seems they were not received until around midnight.

At about midnight, the garrison of 1400 men broke-out from Almeida, blowing up the powder magazines and made it through the pickets of the Portuguese and 2nd Foot. Pack’s Brigade and Campbell with the 36th pursued the French towards the bridge at Barba del Puerco. Lieutenant-Colonel Bevan, having received his orders around midnight, had decided to wait the few hours until day-break before moving. However, on hearing the gunfire, Bevan ordered his regiment to move off quickly towards the bridge. The French arrived at the bridge first, pursued by Pack’s force and the King’s Own with the 36th Foot attacked the second French column in flank as it was descending the steep road to the bridge. Despite losses, the main French force made it across the bridge. Lieutenant Colonel Cochrane of the 36th with a detachment from his regiment and the 4th decided to rush the bridge and was beaten back with casualties.

Lord Wellington

Lord Wellington was furious at both the failure to block the French breakout and the futile attempt to cross the bridge.   In a despatch to the Earl of Liverpool, Secretary of State, Wellington wrote that ‘the 4th Regiment which was ordered to occupy Barba del Puerco, unfortunately missed their road and did not arrive there till the enemy had reached the place….’ and that ‘the enemy are indebted for the small part of the garrison which they saved principally due to the unfortunate mistake of the road to Barba del Puerco by the 4th Regiment.’

A second despatch says that orders were sent to Erskine which were received at about 4 p.m., and that Erskine said he forwarded them immediately. The despatch further states that ‘the 4th Regiment, which it is said did not receive their orders before midnight, and had only two and a half miles to march, missed their road and did not arrive, at Barba del Puero till after the French.’…. ‘Thus your Lordship will see, that, if the 4th Regiment had received the orders issued at 1 p.m. before it was dark at 8 o’clock at night, or if they had not missed their road, the garrison must have lain down its arms….’
Lieutenant Colonel Bevan felt that both he and his regiment had been unfairly criticised in the despatches and asked Wellington for an enquiry.  Wellington refused this and subsequent requests.  Eventually, apparently falling into a black despair at the slur on his own reputation and the honour of his regiment, Bevan shot himself on 8th July 1811.  He was buried in the castle yard at Portalegre and his funeral was attended by all divisional officers.  His memorial stone reads:

‘This stone is erected to the memory of Charles Bevan Esquire. Late Lieutenant Colonel of the 4th or King’s Own Regiment with intention of recording his virtues. They are deeply engraven on the hearts of those who knew him and will ever live in their remembrance.’

What really happened on that fateful night to enable the French to escape from Almeida will never be known.  Historians differ on the exact sequence of events, but there is some consensus that General Erskine, who was dining with Sir Brent Spencer that evening, received the orders and put them in his pocket, forgetting about them until around midnight.  Realising the severity of his error he then excused himself to Wellington by claiming that the 4th had set out late and then lost their way.
In November 1897 MacMillan’s Magazine published an extract from the diary of Private John Timwell of the 43rd Foot, which included the following entry from the diary of an officer of his regiment:-
“The French could never have escaped had it not been for an accident in Sir William Erskine not sending an order in time to Colonel Bevan, which caused him to be too late at Barba del Puerco with his Regiment. Poor Bevan was censured by Lord Wellington, which circumstance preyed so much on his mind, knowing he had done his duty, that he blew his brains out.
The order alluded to was sent from headquarters by Lord Wellington’s direction and Sir William Erskine forgot to forward it, and literally, after the business was over, the document was found in his pocket.”
Bevan’s wife and children in England were informed that he had died of fever and it was not until 1843, that his eldest son, Charles was told the truth by an uncle, Admiral James Richard Dacres, who wrote informing him that the 4th had received their orders too late and that neither Bevan nor his Regiment were at fault.

Bevan’s story is often cited by critics of Wellington as an example of his autocratic and uncaring behaviour towards his officers and it is true that the commander-in-chief does not come out well from the affair.  Wellington was well aware of the problems of Sir William Erskine as a divisional commander.  His temporary command of the elite Light Division had been disastrous, he was very near-sighted and apparently had mental health problems as well as being arrogant and unwilling to listen to advice.  There were rumours too, that he drank too much, and one wonders if that may have influenced his casual treatment of Wellington’s orders that night. Certainly Wellington was quick to remove Erskine from his position commanding a division and instead sent him to lead four mounted regiments in the newly organized 2nd Cavalry Division in Rowland Hill’s corps.  At some time during 1812 Erskine’s problems were too obvious to ignore and he was declared insane.  In 1813 he killed himself by jumping out of a window in Lisbon.

Wellington’s tolerance of Erskine for so long can be explained by the man’s connections and possible influence in London.  Although the commander-in-chief would have liked to ignore politics and fight his war, it was not always possible.  For the same reason, he was probably reluctant to publicly censure Erskine for his likely blunder in the Almeida affair.  But it is also very possible that Wellington genuinely believed that Bevan had made a mistake by not setting out for the bridge during the night.  

It should be remembered that Wellington did not take any measures against Bevan or the fourth.  He was not court-martialled or disciplined in any way.  It is very probable that Wellington simply failed to take into account the effect of one of his not infrequent public criticisms of his officers on a man as sensitive as Charles Bevan.  Bevan was known to suffer from periods of melancholy, probably what would today be recognised as clinical depression.  Other officers had suffered from their commander-in-chief’s insensitivity and bad temper and recovered.  Bevan, sadly, was unable to do so.

There is now a memorial to Charles Bevan in the English cemetery in Elvas, a beautiful little place which we visited last year.  It is impossible not to feel sad at the waste of a man who was liked and respected by his fellow officers and loved by his wife and children.  In a different time, under a different commander, Bevan might have done better.  Service under Wellington, it seemed, required a thicker skin than poor Bevan possessed.

Memorial to Colonel Charles Bevan in the English Cemetary in Elvas

The story of Bevan is told in full in Wellington’s Scapegoat by Archie Hunter and has been discussed by various historians.  Some claim that Wellington deliberately scapegoated Bevan to avoid the political consequences of telling the truth about Erskine.  Others suggest that Wellington genuinely believed Bevan to have made a mistake and could see no reason to take the matter any further.  Bevan had been told and simply needed to get over it and move on.

Rory Muir, in his excellent biography of Wellington, points out that it probably made no sense for Wellington to re-open the unfortunate affair with an enquiry.  There was a war to fight and decisions to be made and there was no time for agonising and recriminations.  It was a harsh but practical approach which may have sat ill with some of Bevan’s fellow officers, but it probably accounts for some of Wellington’s success as a commander.

What may be true, is that Wellington could have explained his decision not to allow an enquiry to Bevan rather than brusquely refusing without discussion.  That, certainly, is Wellington at his most autocratic but it was not personal to Bevan and most of his officers managed to survive it.  Poor Charles Bevan, with his periods of depression, simply could not.

The suicide of Charles Bevan is an integral part of the story of An Uncommon Campaign, the third book in the Peninsular War Saga although we do not meet Bevan personally.  Colonel Paul van Daan’s reaction to his death is a mixture of sadness, guilt and anger and probably mirrors that of a lot of the officers who knew Bevan.  Even today depression and suicide are difficult for many people to understand, and for a character like the belligerent and outgoing colonel of the 110th, Bevan’s despair and his decision to leave his wife and children must have seemed completely incomprehensible.  Knowing more about the condition today, it is easier to understand what happened to Bevan.

For me, the story is a reminder of the realities of war in any age.  The men who held officers’ commissions under Wellington all experienced combat and army life in their own individual way.  We look at the army, marching across the plains and mountain ranges of Portugal, Spain and France, as a unit but, to the officers and men fighting in it their stories were unique.  There was no understanding or acceptance of post traumatic stress disorder, shock or depression.  No clinician stepped in to declare that Sir William Erskine was not well enough to command men in battle and nobody was there to assess Lord Wellington’s sudden explosions of sarcastic fury and diagnose stress in a man with huge burdens to bear.  In the age of the wars against Napoleon no allowances were made for the physical and emotional effect of years of campaigning.

Given everything these men went through, the suicides of Charles Bevan and Sir William Erskine are not that surprising at all.  The surprising thing is that it didn’t happen more often.